Still Alice wastes absolutely no time. Based on the novel by Lisa Genova, the movie gives you its purpose in the title; it’s an empathetic, compassionate movie about a woman desperate to remain herself, to be the person she’s created, in the face of early onset Alzheimer’s.
And it dives right in: Mere minutes have gone by before Alice (Julianne Moore), in the middle of a birthday dinner, loses a piece of information. Her family doesn’t notice, this time; not her work-focused but supportive husband John (Alec Baldwin); her sharp elder daughter Anna (Kate Bosworth); her perpetually smiling son Tom (Hunter Parrish); and certainly not her younger daughter Lydia (Kristen Stewart), who has flown the New York coop for Los Angeles. Everyone is smiling, pretty, well-off — the little bumps of life are no big deal.
Then, Alice forgets something else. She gets lost on the campus of Columbia University, where she teaches linguistics; she can’t remember the word “lexicon.” Straightforward and almost relentless, Alice — co-directed and co-written by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland — is focused so closely on Alice that it fails to flesh out two of her children, and sometimes the score overpowers the actors.
But Moore is, as ever, a wondrous focal point for all that happens to, around and within her (and the Academy took notice — Moore won the Oscar for the role). Her family changes, grows, adapts or doesn’t; she changes and adapts, her frustration and fear palpable as the work she prides herself in becomes impossible. As Alice’s memory fades, her connection with Lydia — the rebellious child, the one eschewing college for the instability of theater — grows, and if it’s a bit of a cliché that the artistic kid is the most sensitive, it’s nonetheless still true that Stewart gives a lovely, understated performance. Lydia is the only person to look beyond her own grief and ask Alice what she’s feeling as the days, and the illness, march on.
That simple question is part of what gives Still Alice a particular resonance and makes its inexorable slide bearable; it’s not a movie about a disease, but about a woman coming to terms with the hand she’s been given. You will very likely leave the theater wanting to call your mom. I know I did. (Bijou Art Cinemas)