Viewers could be excused for dismissing “Still Alice” as the sort of emotional kitsch that airs on Lifetime.
The titular Dr. Alice Howland (Julianne Moore), a linguistics professor at Columbia University, is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, disrupting her idyllic life.
However, Moore’s performance and an interesting editing style that mirrors the decline of Dr. Howland’s mental faculties elevates the movie above what might be expected.
From her diagnosis to the movie’s final scene, Moore’s performance is measured. She presents a realistic portrayal of a woman with Alzheimer’s without ever descending into emotional patronization, even when the script seems to demand it.
We learn that Alice’s three children each have a chance of carrying the same gene that causes the rare variety of Alzheimer’s she has. And so we must suffer through the hackneyed tension of whether or not each child will take the test for the gene.
Later on, she delivers a moving speech at an Alzheimer’s society meeting where she is forced to use a highlighter to avoid rereading sentences.
The film is replete with these ham-fisted scenarios, and were it not for Moore’s refusal to play them as they were written they would almost be intolerable.
Unfortunately, the remaining cast of “Still Alice” does not have Moore’s moderation. Alec Baldwin and Kristen Stewart, playing Alice’s husband John and daughter Lydia, respectively, are responsible for most of the film’s overacting.
Lydia’s career as an actress conflicts with Alice’s desire to see her attend college, and there is a dismal confrontation between the two of them halfway through the film where Kristen Stewart utterly fails to establish anything resembling a familial bond with Moore.
The most intriguing part of “Still Alice” is how the editing throughout the film mirrors Moore’s decline. As her condition progresses, key events start to disappear from the film’s edit.
Months pass between sequential scenes, and characters refer back to events whose occurrence can only be inferred by context clues.
In one such sequence, we progress in a matter of minutes from Dr. Howland receiving news that one of her daughters is pregnant to the child’s delivery.
This style allows the viewer to gain some modicum of understanding for the awful disease Alice contends with.
“Still Alice” made me realize that often the only real difference between a movie that blatantly aims for Oscar nominations and a Lifetime original film is the performance of the lead.
The question of whether Moore deserves her Best Actress for “Still Alice” isn’t really in debate; her performance deserves it.
However, outside of her performance and the editing style, the film is merely mediocre.