The Watchers

The Watchers

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Review: Still Alice (UK Cert 12A)

When was the last time you cried at a film? I mean, properly cried. Not just a gentle moistening of the eyelashes and a lump in the throat, I mean full-on Gwyneth-Paltrow-at-the-Oscars sobbing. Well, for me, it was whilst watching Still Alice.

Dr. Alice Howland is a renowned linguistics professor, married with three children and grandchildren on the way, and has just turned fifty. However, she starts to notice things going wrong: she has difficulty finding the right words and gets lost on campus. A medical check-up gives a devastating diagnosis: Alice has early onset Alzheimer's.

Richard Glatzer (who sadly passed away recently) and Wash Westmoreland adapt the novel by neuroscientist Lisa Genova and co-direct a touching, moving and- at times- emotionally devastating film, featuring an Oscar-winning performance by Julianne Moore in the title role. 

Moore gives a distressingly authentic performance - a heart-to-heart with husband John (Alec Baldwin) when she first broaches the subject that something might not be right shows her go from anger to tears in a few sentences and, as the illness takes over, her desperation to find her phone (her anchor to the real world) and how she deals with knowing that she is ill and knowing what the illness will do to her is just gutwrenching. There isn't a shred of ego in Moore's performance. In lesser hands, this could have just been clunky, maudlin, made-for-TV weepie melodrama. Moore's nuanced and emotional performance, whilst not easy to watch in places, is superb.

Other performances are decent across the board- Baldwin provides ample support as John, dealing with his wife's decline; Kate Bosworth and Hunter Parrish are strong as Alice's kids Anna and Tom, whilst Kristen Stewart does the moody adolescent thing again as youngest daughter Lydia, a struggling actress who wants to go her own way. I've not had much time for Kristen Stewart before, but she wasn't as insufferable as I feared I might find her, and she was a good fit for the character. Stewart and Moore's clashes add a real dramatic heft to the piece- both before and after Alice's diagnosis. 

The film has received a lot of praise from families of Alzheimer's patients who have said that the film gets a lot right about the condition and how people deal with it. As you might have guessed, if you're after something light and frothy and undemanding, you won't find that here. This is a real emotional ride of a film and you may leave feeling absolutely drained afterwards. But it's worth seeing for Moore's outstanding performance. 

Rating: 4 out of 5


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