Julianne Moore’s frontrunner status at the Academy Awards will surprise no one who has seen Still Alice, a rather surprisingly effective film that is more than a simple sum of its acting parts.
Newly turned 50, Alice Howland (Moore) is starting to lose her memory. First it is little things like words, but to a distinguished professor of linguistics, words are life. Then it is more, like her daughter’s name.
Still Alice, based on Lisa Genova’s novel and brought to the screen by the writing-directing duo of Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (Quinceañera), could have had the emotional heft of a Lifetime Movie. Instead, Moore’s expectedly sincere, award-bait performance, plus a serious turn from Alec Baldwin and a reminder Kristen Stewart is much more than Bella Swan, elevate this film to a level of emotion not typically seen on basic cable.
Tears are likely, as is empathy, a much harder emotion to evoke cinematically than sympathy. Trying not to imagine oneself in this devastatingly realistic situation is near impossible. Movies about diseases are a dime a dozen, but unlike, say, 50/50, the diagnosis in Still Alice does not provide the remote chance of a happy ending or a hope of remission. One knows the outcome going in, and such foreknowledge makes Alice an even more meaningful, tougher film to watch.