Wednesday, June 03, 2015


Going into this year's Academy Awards, opinions were split on whether Boyhood or Birdman would take the top prize. (I myself suspected the outcome.) But one category where all the predictors agreed was Best Actress; Julianne Moore had it all sewn up for her work in Still Alice. I recently got to see the movie that finally won her an Oscar.

Still Alice is the story of a language professor who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease. The movie follows her struggles with the disease as it begins to strip away the intellect that once defined her as a person, and shows the pain it brings to her husband and three children.

This movie is more than a mere acting showcase -- though it certainly is that. It's a truthful depiction of Alzheimer's disease that will be recognized by the too many people who have dealt with it in their families, and that will educate those fortunate enough not to have had to. On the one hand, it's disappointing when Hollywood "de-ages" an issue to make it more accessible (though at 55, Julianne Moore is hardly at the age Hollywood likes to regress to). On the other hand, by producing a film where Alzheimer's afflicts someone at an unusually young age, it actually serves to highlight some truths. Too much of the deterioration of Alzheimer's is attributed to normal aging, passed off as having a people have "senior moments." And it seems to me that the false expectation that "this is what happens when you get old," as though it's supposed to happen, may have subtly discouraged the pursuit of a cure.

Still Alice may be a work of fiction, but it doesn't feel at all artificial. Credit for this largely goes to the exceptional cast. Julianne Moore earns that Oscar with an intense performance that puts the audience through all the emotions her character Alice is feeling. Alec Baldwin is strong as a husband who wants to stand by his wife, but finds it increasingly difficult to do so. Alice's three children are played well by Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish, and Kristen Stewart. And yes, even Kristen Stewart is pretty good in this -- a combination of her stepping up toward the level of the actors around her, and being well cast in a role that primarily demands her to be standoffish (check) and a struggling actress who isn't very good (check).

I was so moved by Still Alice that it made it on to my Top 10 List of 2014. Though it wasn't a contender for the Best Picture Oscar, I actually preferred it to most of the movies that were. I give it an A-, and my strong recommendation.

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