Monday, February 23, 2015

Still Alice Review

Still Struggling
Family life is very rarely idyllic paradise. There's always some kind of fraught conflict existing between spouses, siblings, parents and their offspring that can range from the mundane to the cataclysmic. Having a mother diagnosed with a familial form of Alzheimer's is obviously the kind of development that can change a families entire outlook on life, and as for the mother, her life will never be the same. 

It's her journey that is chronicled in Still Alice, as the titular character Alice (Julianne Moore), a college professor and mother of three, grapples with the effects Alzheimer's has on her life. Now, I and so many others had heard about Moore's work in the film, with her receiving a Best Actress Oscar last night that was considered by many to be a guarantee for months. As one might imagine, I was pleasantly surprised to see that her performance more than lived up to my lofty expectations.

A dual achievement can be seen in how successfully the film depicts Alice's slowly deteriorating mental abilities over time as the disease's impact on her life steadily grows. Moore makes sure to keep things subtle, but also reaffirms her frustrations with having to deal with this ailment. The films best moments from her, for my money, are early on in the feature, centering around Alice dealing with forgetting simple things like dinner plans. Scenes showing her in the later stages of Alzheimer's are similarly successful, with a heartbreaking tone coming from how limited Alice is in terms of verbal communication and recollecting memories (a scene that has her failing to recognize the college she used to teach at is particularly devastating).

Moore helps sell such moments, but the script by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (the two also direct the movie) is also responsible for this character transition, primarily in how it never feels contrived or rushed within the story. The supporting cast, which also contains a pleasing Alec Baldwin and Kate Bosworth, hold their own against Moore's terrific work, especially Kristen Stewart as Alice's daughter Lydia, whose always had a conflict filled dynamic with her mother, but now must try to push that aside and grapple with the effects of Alice's illness.

By the end of Still Alice, I felt enlightened. Seeing the effect this sort of tremendous ailment can have a single person is quite devastating to watch, especially since Moore does a great job conveying the sort of impact it has on a persons everyday life. Not every aspect of the movie is perfect (there's one or two extraneous scenes, and Alice's two other children don't get much development), but I was surprised at how well the film managed to depict one woman's struggle against a monumental disease.


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