Film Review: Still Alice (★★★½)

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still_aliceIt’s hard to put into words why “Still Alice” from writer/directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland is as effective as it is.  A cinematic experience that will pull you through the ringer, similar to other tearjerking efforts like “Terms of Endearment” or “Stepmom,” the film is a heartbreaking measurement of storytelling that is one of the surprising gems of the year.  Helmed by a magnificent performance by Julianne Moore, “Still Alice” dodges most of the cliché tropes of disease-ridden dramas with spunk and warmth.  It’s not just about the struggle of Alice (Moore), it’s also an in-depth and informative medical drama that not only breaks your heart, but provide valuable information and sensitivity to anyone who may know or will know someone in the future.

The film tells the story of Alice, a brilliant professor that is diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 50.  Terrified of the future, and the fear of forgetting the life she’s created, “Still Alice” reflects not only on the ramifications of knowing such knowledge of your eventual demise, but how it affects those who know and love you.  If your loved one was stricken with such an illness, would you, rather could you stand by their side no matter what?  It’s easy to answer with the socially acceptable response until you’re faced with such a question.

“Alice” inhabits a simplicity that almost feels too uncomplicated and transparent to warrant a positive take but alas, here we are.  Glatzer and Westmoreland create a sensitive, well-intentioned examination of a woman struggling with early on-set Alzheimer’s disease.  May sound like shameless, factory-standard Oscar bait, but its unlike any movie you’ll see this year, dealing with delicate subject matter in a tender way.  They cover different angles of the topic at hand without getting too preachy.  Of course, this is mostly due to the brilliance of four-time Academy Award nominee Moore, but she’s not the only one on her A-game.  Co-star Alec Baldwin, who plays Alice’s husband John, showcases one of his most layered portrayals yet.  Internalized, disturbed, but very compelling in the way he chooses to execute his feelings.  Baldwin’s mannerisms and antics have not been put to better use in quite sometime.

Kristen Stewart continues to revitalize her image as an actress.  “Clouds of Sils Maria” and “Camp X-Ray” are terrific examples of her talents put to great use but what she achieves as Lydia, Alice’s youngest daughter is nothing short of spectacular.  Glatzer and Westermoreland understand her abilities and limitations but heighten them to stunning results.  If Stewart continues on this path, she could easily become one of our greatest working actresses.  She’s certainly one of the most exciting at the moment.  Stewart is a gift.

After struggling to find her voice in the movies, Kate Bosworth hits on all cylinders as Anna.  As does Hunter Parrish, fondly remembered from “It’s Complicated.”  He’s aching for his big, breakout role.  

StillAlice_sliceI guess it’s time to worship the aura of Julianne Moore.  It’s easy to dismiss my take on her work since I’m unapologetically a Moore enthusiast (loud and proud).  Three of her Oscar nominations for “Boogie Nights,” “Far from Heaven,” and “The Hours” are all worthy citations, arguably winning performances that Oscar passed over.  I’ve been able to separate her overall brilliance from some of the choices she’s made in roles over the years.  “The English Teacher” is an attempt to be change it up, “The Forgotten” is a horror/mystery that lacks either of those words, and “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio” is well…that movie from 2005.  Julianne Moore is a revelation of epic proportions.  Bold, provocative, and emotionally gripping, she delivers one of her strongest performances to date.  She takes a daring stand to be vulnerable and hits an amazing high.  A destined winner of Best Actress.

The film can feel like a factory-standard creation passed over by the TV networks at times, mostly due to the style in which its shot.  Cinematographer Denis Lenior keeps things straightforward but isn’t adventurous enough to stand out in the crowd.  Film Editor Nicolas Chaudeurge should also take a few cues from the playbook of Pietro Scalia, Stephen Mirrione, and Richard Marks, editors that know how to milk a scene for everything its worth.  There are moments that will surely create a weep-a-thon in your seat, but there are missed opportunities to really push the audience over the edge.  Composer Ilan Eshkeri however, takes his cues from famed musicians like John Williams and Howard Shore to swell the tearducts to maximum capacity.

Overall, “Still Alice” is a very rewarding experience, wrapped in a blanket of emotions held by Julianne Moore and Co..  It’s one of those rare films that makes you think and gives you a debate to have with your loved ones.  A deep, human movie that doesn’t shy away from baring its soul and the vast complexities that come with it.  Just plain great.

“Still Alice” is distributed by Sony Pictures Classics and is scheduled to open in theaters December 5, 2014 (limited release).

Check out the latest Oscar Predictions and see where “Still Alice” ranks including Picture, Actress, and Supporting Actress!

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