A film detailing Alzheimer’s Disease was never going to be an easy watch. It is an uncompromising, brutal and savage disease, and to depict it as something other than that would be cowardly. Still Alice is anything but cowardly. This adaptation of Lisa Genova’s novel has had much acclaim focused on the performance of Julianne Moore, but it must be commended for its honest portrayal of such a disease, and what that effect is not just on the individual, but by all who love and care for them.
Moore plays Alice Howland, a celebrated linguistics professor at Columbia University at the height of her career. She is a mother of three grown children (Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish, & Kristen Stewart) and has a loving relationship with her husband, John (Alec Baldwin). Her perfect world however, soon takes an unexpected and tragic turn, as she is diagnosed with young-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. As the disease slowly tears away the brilliant woman Alice once was, her family must face the decision as to what is the best means of dealing with the unstoppable, and fast-moving, disease.
The directing duo of Wash Westmoreland, and the sadly recently deceased Richard Glatzner, practice the fine art of understatement, allowing for the impact of the disease to be felt in a very intimate and natural way. The choice to shoot events with a hazy background, only having the central figures in the frame in focus creates a sense of the effect of the deteriorating nature of the disease, as well as developing a sense that there are lives happening within and beyond the frame; we become more aware of them because it is quite clear there is movement but we can’t quite define them. Life continues for the people around Alice, whilst hers is falling away at each moment. The image itself isn’t particularly arresting and it does become quite hard to watch at times, but it is an interesting style in which to frame these events.
While this may seem like a cold approach, there is plenty of warmth and compassion contained within the movie, largely due to the means in which we feel the impact of Alice upon the personalities of her children, and how we see them react. Much of the focus falls on Alice’s relationship with her youngest daughter, Stewart’s struggling actress, Lydia. The film is particularly interested in how Lydia steps up to the plate when everyone else seems to struggle to renegotiate their relationship with Alice. It provides Stewart with a relationship and a character with realistic depth, as she more than holds her own on screen with Moore, making the biggest impact in a supporting cast in which most of the other players struggle to get as much of a look in.
Moore herself provides an intimate, deftly constructed performance of outstanding nuance and devastating grace. Alice is a character who has proven relentless in her life, making sure to succeed in every aspect of her life, and when she is met with a disease that is just as, if not more so, relentless, it hits her hard. In each scene, Moore slices something else away from Alice’s personality, and each time that the change is more significant, it is nothing short of tragic. Much of the emotional devastation comes from seeing such a familiar actress convincingly portray the deterioration that comes courtesy of Alzheimer’s.
Still Alice is capable of being heart-warming and devastating at the same time. It is also a film which flirts with some dark options in regard to dealing with the disease. It is a difficult to sit through, with the severity of the whole situation often making it hard to believe. This coupled with the hazy cinematography can leave one a bit too bewildered, but it feels like an important take on a serious disease, as well as acting as a showcase for one of the greatest working actresses today.
4/5- A stunning performance from Moore is at the focus of a film which bravely portrays the effects of a devastating disease.