Thursday 14 November 2019

Review: Still Alice - 'Moore's total mastery of craft illuminates a life slipping away'

George Byrne

Drama. Starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish. Directed by Richard Glaster and Wash Westmoreland. Cert 12A

4*

It's become very rare in recent years that someone is odds-on to win an Oscar and duly triumphs without the film in which the performance was delivered being seen on this side of the Atlantic. However, that was the case this year with Julianne Moore picking up the Best Actress gong for Still Alice and, it's good to report, a thoroughly deserved victory it was too.

Personally, I thought Felicity Jones was magnificent in The Theory of Everything, as was Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night, but watching the nuanced, heart-wrenching turn Moore delivers here leaves one in no doubt whatsoever that Academy voters got it right on the night.

Based on a book by Lisa Genova, Still Alice deals with the all-too-relevant subject of Alzheimer's disease, a topic which film-makers tend to tiptoe around or avoid altogether. Perhaps the best movie on the subject was Sarah Polley's touching 2006 drama Away From Her, in which Vanessa Redgrave gave an Oscar-nominated performance as a woman who loses her faculties and eventually fails to recognise her husband of more than three decades. Moore's turn here is even more impressive, given the fact that her character, linguistics professor Alice Howland, is only 50 years old and devastated at being diagnosed with the condition at such a young age.

Moore's subtlety as we see Alice gradually lose her train of thought while giving lectures or even engaging in conversations over dinner displays an outstanding mastery of her craft and she's matched by wonderful supporting performances. Alec Baldwin is magnificent as her loving husband, showing great emotional depth as he has to come to terms with the fact that his wife is slipping away from him before his eyes, while Kristen Stewart gives an equally strong and unshowy stint as Alice's youngest child, an aspiring actress who's probably closer in temperament to her mother and therefore more likely to come into conflict with her.

When dealing with such a subject there's a danger that film-makers can slip into 'disease of the week' TV movie mode, but that doesn't happen here with Richard Glaster and Wash Westmoreland.

Respectful but never po-faced, the directors don't overdo the emotion but give us a thoroughly engrossing drama about a woman finding herself slipping away and watching how that impacts on her immediate family. In one devastating yet brilliantly subtle sub-plot alone, the horror of what Alice knows is going to happen to her hits like a hammer blow yet doesn't feel like it's been placed there for effect alone.

A deeply moving but occasionally stilted film, Still Alice is worthy of your attention not merely because of the seriousness of its subject matter but the performances of Moore, Baldwin and Stewart, reminding us that there is still great work to be seen on our screens.

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