I first discovered Lisa Genova through her excellent book, Left Neglected. Wanting to read more of her work, I came upon Still Alice, an earlier work that she actually self-published. She’s got a great handle on neurological disorders but her stories aren’t clinical. They’re very human, and almost too relatable.
Julianne Moore is Alice, a 50-year-old woman with loads on her plate: she and her husband (Alec Baldwin) are both ambitious, workhorse academics. She’s a Columbia professor who travels around giving talks on her research in the field of communication. They have three children, a son still in med school (Hunter Parrish), a daughter newly married and trying to conceive (Kate Bosworth), and a starving-artist daughter trying to make it as an actor (Kristen Stewart). It’s hard to see who’s more lost at sea when Alice is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. There’s pain for everyone as they all come to terms with losing a vibrant, strong woman who’s been a big influence on each of their lives, but of course it’s Alice’s pain we witness the most, even as her disease progresses quite quickly.
It’s hard not to make this review just about Julianne Moore because of course she’s going to make or break this movie, and she’s made it. We see her go from competent, and sharp, and slide into more watered versions, more confused versions of her former self. Her gaze changes as her disease worsens, becoming flatter, disengaged, but it never goes blank. Maybe it would be better if it did; we still see hints of Alice and so feel the chasm between her old and current selves more keenly as she struggles to know herself, remember herself, lose herself.
It’s heartbreaking, but I have to give mad props to directors Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer, who used a heck of a lot of restraint in filming this movie. The subject is pregnant with the potential to be self-pitying and cloying but it never even comes close. I still don’t Geneva’s work here is her best, nor does the script elevate it much, but it earned some tears and some thought and much admiration for a career-high performance.