With a combination of power and grace, Julianne Moore elevates “Still Alice” above its made-for-cable-television trappings, and delivers one of the more memorable performances of her career.
This is no small feat, given the depth and breadth of Moore’s filmography and her consistent ability to produce great work, from playing a porn star in “Boogie Nights” to an eccentric artist in “The Big Lebowski” to a frustrated housewife in “Far From Heaven” to her dead-on portrayal of Sarah Palin in HBO’s “Game Change.” She’s such a smart, clever and instinctive actress that she never hits a false note. She finds unexpected avenues into her character, a challenging role that requires her to show a mental deterioration that’s both gradual and inherently internal.
Thankfully, “Still Alice” doesn’t deify the woman she plays: Dr. Alice Howland, an esteemed linguistics professor at Columbia University who finds she’s suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Co-directors and writers Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland don’t shy away from the steady and terrifying way the disease can take hold of a person and strip away her ability to communicate and connect with the outside world. But they also don’t tell this story with much nuance or artistry in adapting Lisa Genova’s novel.
This is especially true when comparing “Still Alice” to a couple of recent films that have tackled the same territory: Sarah Polley’s haunting “Away From Her” and Michael Haneke’s unflinching “Amour.” The flat lighting, the frequent use of maudlin music, a heavy reliance on medium shots and some awkward cutaways for reactions all contribute to the sensation of watching a rather workmanlike production better suited to the small screen. But the film’s heart is in the right place, and the message matters, and it surely will resonate with the millions of people whose loved ones have suffered from this cruel disease.