Arts Review, Movies
Regular followers of my film reviews (my wife, Academy Award guru and pal Les Petriw and Mike and Jean) know that I score comically low with Oscar picks, so take this statement with a whole shaker of salt: Julianne Moore will win the Academy Award for her dazzling performance in Still Alice. And if she doesn’t get it, I’m sure the winning actress will tearfully acknowledge Moore in her Oscar acceptance speech.
That’s because Julianne Moore is brilliant as Alice Howland, a linguistics professor, who suddenly begins to lose her memory. Soon, she has to deal with the awful truth: she has early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Moore’s performance is flashy but nuanced. We can’t take our eyes off her as she tries to cope with a descending level of performance as a teacher, something she’s always done with panache. Indeed, Moore’s Alice has always been an over-achiever—acclaimed in her field, happily married to a medical researcher (a subdued Alec Baldwin), physically fit and a great mom to three kids (Kristin Stewart, Kate Bosworth and Hunter Parrish).
The film’s narrative is as unyielding as the disease. Alice’s decline, at first gradual and then increasingly rapid, is charted through family, academic and medical scenes of greater and greater severity. It’s as remorseless as ALS, which co-director and scriptwriter Richard Glatzer is coping with, and AIDS, which devastated Glatzer’s and partner Wash Westmoreland’s lives over the past 25 years.
Perhaps that’s why the film as a whole works emotionally. Glatzer and Westmoreland have seen so much—and Moore has such good taste as an artist—that Still Alice never capsizes into melodramatic excess. There is a worthy attempt to avoid the obvious tear-stained moments that could work on an audience but wouldn’t be true to the story.
Ultimately, though, Still Alice rises and falls on the strength of Julianne Moore’s performance. She moves through scenes with balletic grace and a gravitas that works wonderfully well with the character of Alice and the meaning of her tale. Moore never compromises: we feel the pain and bewilderment and fear that Alice would experience if confronted with Alzheimer’s. As always with Moore, she makes it all too real—and we can’t help but feel moved.
Julianne Moore has been superb this year in Map to the Stars and even Mockingjay part one. Now’s the time for her colleagues to honour her with the Oscar.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical 96.3 FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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