3 stars
Alice Howland (Julianne Moore – What Maisie Knew) is a renowned linguistics professor, gifted academic, beloved wife and mother. She's got it all, and is then given a devastating diagnosis soon after her 50th birthday: early onset Alzheimer's disease.
She begins to forget words and ideas, gets lost in familiar places and suffers panic attacks. It's frightening to be struck so young, no less for her adult children who could also be carrying this rare version of the disease. The family rallies around Alice, notably husband John (Alec Baldwin – Blue Jasmine) and her daughter Lydia (Kristen Stewart – Twilight) who has tested positive. There's a terrifying prospect that Alice is her future.

Adapted from Lisa Genova's best-selling novel, the writing-directing team of Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (known for lightweight biopics like The Last of Robin Hood and the porn comedy Fluffer) have found a mid-ground between earnest drama and disease-of-the-week telemovies. What they've also done is give Moore a career standout in Alice. She is the glue that holds the film together with a compelling performance that doesn't rely on weight loss, weight gain or prosthetics to catch our attention. Moore is simply magnetic as piece by piece, Alice disappears inside herself. “It feels like my brain is dying,” she tells Lydia calmly in one of the film's more distressing moments.

It is said that Alzheimer's steals people before they die, a dictum borne out in this challenging story. Watching a confident, self-assured Alice wither into a troubled, incoherent woman is heart-breaking. And it would be even more upsetting if Glatzer and Westmoreland were able to shake off the Hollywood gloss in which they've wrapped their story. There's a troubling earnestness to the tone of the film that undermines the natural emotional core of Alice's plight, and Genova's novel. There's also a swiftness to Alice's decline that seems, frankly, impossible. The filmmakers fail to convince otherwise.

There are some fine moments – Alice's speech to the Society is sharp and well written; the failure of her exit strategy is a painful episode to watch. Yet the film is bogged by the difficultly to connect in a way that audiences of all ages responded to Michael Haneke's comparative Amour, or perhaps more immediately relevant, Sarah Polley's Away From Her. They achieved an integrity, a reality, a poignancy that this, despite its best intentions, only aspires to, Moore's startling presence notwithstanding.


Previewed at Dendy Cinemas, Newtown, Sydney, on 15 December 2014


Julianne Moore
Alec Baldwin
Kirsten Stewart
Hunter Parrish

Richard Galtzer
Wash Westmoreland


Richard Galtzer
Wash Westmoreland



101 minutes

January 29, 2015
Still Alice (2014) on IMDb