To begin, she forgets the word “lexicon.” Renowned linguistics professor, wife, and mother of three grown children, Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) grapples with losing her words to the cruel chaos of Early-Onset Alzheimer’s. Still Alice, poised to be a brutal exposition, and an Oscar vehicle for Moore, is polished but forgettable.
The Howland family dynamics remain superficial whether fault lies in the acting, script, or characters themselves. The disease exposes selfishness in Alice’s husband (Alec Baldwin, inconsistently), detachment in her elder daughter (Kate Bosworth, convincingly) or nothing at all in her son (Hunter Parrish). Realistic reactions, perhaps, but the film is so completely concerned with Alice that it is difficult to empathize with her underdeveloped kin. Their coldness is damning, which is counter-intuitive for a film that at other times promotes the salve of love. This is the case with Lydia, Alice’s youngest daughter -- the struggling actress, black-sheep of the family, played with earnest compassion by Kristen Stewart -- even in her signature breathy, hair-tousling style. As Alice loses her memories, she forges a new loving lexicon with Lydia. Ultimately, their relationship is the heart of the film.
Moore maintains subtle grace, shining as the once eloquent Alice struggles to deliver a speech - she underlines each sentence to avoid embarrassing repetition. Disappointingly ungraceful are the filmmakers’ attempts to acknowledge technology in the contemporary experience of Alzheimer’s, indistinguishable from mere iProduct placement. Frequent shots in a shallow depth of field and close-ups on Moore’s articulate face augment Alice’s isolated disorientation, but the cool, khaki palette and sensible camera work belie the violent verse that Alice uses to describe being ravaged by Alzheimer’s: “fucking hell.”
Wide releasing January 16, Still Alice is written and directed by Richard Glatzer & Wash Westmoreland.
Images and video via Sony