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Still Alice

December 30, 2015

Still Alice (2014)
Directors: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
Actors: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart

still-alice-300x188.jpg (300×188)

Synopsis: Columbia linguistics professor, Alice Howland (Julianne Moore), develops Alzheimer’s disease at the relatively early age of fifty. Over the subsequent months, the deterioration in Alice’s condition plays out among her family, her faculty, and in her own failing mind…

Review: Early-onset Alzheimer’s gets the full, syrupy Hollywood treatment in this film whose lead role raw materials proved shoo-in for a Best Actress gong at the Oscars, especially being incarnated by one of those prestigious queens of Hollywood (think Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, or, as in this instance, Julianne Moore).

Perhaps it feels a tad churlish to tag this film as “syrupy” and over-Hollywoodised as I think filmmakers, Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, had aspirations to something a little more cerebral and reflective. They go with the subtext-heavy potential of having the sufferer as someone with a great mind, a linguistics professor no less, and they gain great mileage out of the opportunities to highlight the tragic, and ironic, poignancy of this very master of language and cognition being stripped of those assets at a brutal rate of knots.

Where I think Glatzer and Westmoreland’s more mainstream aspirations betray them is through casting and their own hackneyed cinematographic grammar. I appreciate the casting of ‘names’ can enable a wider audience and offer greater commercial scope to a film, but are they really no other convincing embodiments of Wasp-ish middle-aged husbandry than Alec Baldwin, and the set-up of an affluent family-of-five with Baldwin playing the father and Hunter Parrish the son had uncanny, and not entirely unintuitive, echoes of that other film about the dysfunctions of a middle-class family, It’s Complicated. It’s in the Hamptons setting, clichéd Super-8 family flashbacks, and the inclusion of a rather demonstrative piano score that the film’s pretensions to overly sermonise and molly-coddle its viewers is outed. (December 2015)

5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 31, 2015 7:48 pm

    I think you hit the nail on the head re ther shortcomings in the film, Patrick, which I just saw recently, too. Like you, I found Baldwin’s character and acting annoying (I’m not a fan), which was a major drawback. The family dynamcis were very conventional, with no in-depth look at anything substantive. However, as usual, an actress like Julianne Moore can somehow transcend some ot the sluggishness of the material. I found that her performance did seem to resonate, in the context of the conventionality you highlight. This film could have been much more, but Moore’s performance, and the subject of a smart mind disintegrating, was compelling, nonetheless. I personally have had experience with Alzheimer’s in people that I know, so was curious how the film handled the theme.

    Have you seen Away from Her to compare? I thought that film was quite realistic and more believable, dealing with a similar subject. Of course, I’ve been a huge Julie Christie fan going way back to at least Billy Liar.

  2. December 31, 2015 8:36 pm

    Hi Bob – thanks for the feedback. Completely agreed that Moore’s performance did to some extent transcend the material. And yes, I have seen Away from Her (a callower review from my youth can be located somewhere on my site!) I found that film infinitely more poignant and moving about the sentimental and ethical off-shoots of Alzheimer’s. The ending left me with a real lump in my throat! And I get you about Julie Christie – gorgeousness personified in Dr Zhivago!

    • January 1, 2016 12:00 am

      Oh, and if you haven’t yet seen it, do catch Billy Liar. Lovely film!

    • January 1, 2016 12:00 am

      Thanks, Patrick. I’m adding all your picks for 2015 to my ‘to watch’ list, too. I haven’t seen a thing for the year, yet. Wiil;l catch all these later. Happy New Year to you!

      • January 1, 2016 12:05 am

        Sorry about the typo above – posted too quickly. Apparently, won’t let me edit. (I swear I’m not into the champagne, yet!).

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