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Still Alice - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Still Alice
Directing: A
Acting: A-
Writing: A
Cinematography: B+
Editing: A

We've several few movies about people struggling with Alzheimer's in the past decade or so, but none have been about a person as young as fifty afflicted with it -- and few have given the central character as much depth and humanity as Still Alice. That doesn't change how horrifying it is to contemplate living with the disease.

Julianne Moore is currently the front runner for the Best Actress Oscar for playing the title role, and it is well deserved, as she expertly illustrates a slow death through memory loss. Alice, as played by Moore, is facing a struggle that is two-fold: Not only is she dealing with the disease at an unusually young age, but she's dealing with rapid decline after unconsciously maintaining memory with sophisticated mental tricks. She is a professor of linguistics, after all, and a particularly intelligent one; in the very early stages, she doesn't even realize how she's compensating for memory lapses.

Viewers should honestly be warned here: Still Alice could be called the tear jerker of the year. That's not a strike against it, and it doesn't emotionally manipulate in the traditional sense of a tear jerker. But there's no denying how sad Alice's progression is, made even more difficult but what a vibrant and dynamic woman she starts out as, with a loving family that can hardly bear to lose her. The tragedy here is keenly felt, and it comes in waves. An early scene of Alice finally breaking the news to her husband, John (a solid Alec Baldwin), which has her in a weeping panic, is particularly heartbreaking. And that's just the beginning.

John and Alice have three children, and as characters they have varying degrees of significance to this story. The one son doesn't get much screen time, but Hunter Parrish makes the most of his few scenes. Daughter Anna (Kate Bosworth) is pregnant with twins, and has to deal not only with her mother's diagnosis but the revelation that it is genetic. But the key relationship is between Alice and youngest daughter Lydia, played by Kristen Stewart with uncharacteristic nuance. Lydia is the one who really changes in this story, from disengaged and living across the country to becoming part-time caretaker.

This is a story presented without complication, expertly edited as we see Alice's steady decline, but with key personal triumphs along the way. Of course, she takes one step forward and five steps back, but those steps forward still have value. And there's still a dash of ambiguity, a sense of uncertainty regarding the quality of Alice's life. When Alice struggles to follow her own directions in a previously recorded video planning for suicide when her memory gets too bad, it's difficult to decide whether, for Alice's own sake, this is actually what's best for her.

Still Alice, excellent as it is, is a bit of a hard sell. It's not exactly a good time. But its key strength is in Moore's depiction of a middle-aged woman far too young to be dealing with memory impairment. Not only does Moore give Alice the dignity she deserves, but she underscores the dignity all people with the disease, regardless of age, should be given. The cast is solid all around, but Moore alone makes this movie a must-see. Just be sure to bring plenty of tissues.

Alec Baldwin and Julianne Moore grapple with early onset Alzheimer's in STILL ALICE.

Overall: A
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