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Still Alice

What She said:

She

Still Alice was a movie that I’ll admit I was curious to watch, but never really got excited about. Afterall, who could really get excited about witnessing a woman’s mental decline into the world of early-onset Alzheimer’s? But the movie does have its merits. It features strong performances from all involved, and the story, while tragic, is also one that’s worthy of contemplation. To my recollection, my direct family has not been affected by Alzheimer’s disease. We’ve got a whole lot of other hereditary conditions floating around, but not Alzheimer’s. However, so many struggle with the disease, and not just those over the age of 85. Still Alice is therefore highly relevant, and opens our eyes to how Alzheimer’s not only affects the patient, but also their family.

Still Alice

Alice Howland is a renowned linguistics professor at Columbia University. She seems to have the perfect life. She and husband, John, also a scholar, live in a gorgeous house and have three loving children. The film introduces us to Alice as she celebrates her 50th birthday. All seems to be well. However, a short time later, Alice is serving as a guest lecturer in California when she forgets part of her presentation. Upon her arrival home, she finds herself becoming lost around a familiar area while out on a jog. Alice is alarmed and so she decides to see a neurologist without telling her family.

The doctor administers a battery of tests, and while things like a stroke or a brain tumor are ruled out, the neurologist fears that Alice may be suffering from a very rare form of Alzheimer’s that presents at an early age and has a strong hereditary link. Both of Alice’s parents died at an earlier age, and so she would not have been aware that this ran in her family. When Alice tells John, he is initially unconvinced. However, genetic testing confirms the diagnosis. Alice and John must break the news to their children, which is traumatic on multiple fronts—first, they’re going to be losing the mother they knew in a relatively short amount of time, and second, there is a strong likelihood that they may also carry the gene that will result in them developing the condition in the future.

The film follows Alice and her family over the course of the next year or so, as her condition deteriorates and their lives are forever altered. It does not take long before Alice is unable to continue her job, which was a huge part of her existence. One daughter finds out that she does have the Alzheimer’s gene, and contemplates the IVF that she is going through in order to have her own children. The other daughter, Lydia, who lives on the West Coast, moves home to be closer to her mother. She has had a tumultuous relationship with Alice—however, this new revelation seems to push her into maturity, and she ultimately decides to put her acting ambitions on hold in order to ensure her mother receives the care that she needs.

Still Alice

John, while a supportive husband, also has trouble dealing with his wife’s illness. It seems like he’s such a scientific person that he cannot often relate to what Alice is feeling. As Alice drifts further from reality, John becomes colder toward her. There is an interesting part of the movie where Alice is sitting on a coach seemingly zoned out and in the background John is very openly leading a family discussion regarding her future. John wants to pursue a job opportunity in Minnesota, which would mean uprooting Alice against her wishes. Once she becomes less aware, John decides that he cannot postpone the job any longer, takes the position, and leaves Alice back in New York. For him, she’s hardly in the vessel of her body anymore, but this also reflects upon a larger issue of having to make decisions fueled by the financial toll that the condition places upon a family. He needs to do what’s necessary to pay for Alice’s continuance of care.

The film closes with Lydia reading a play to Alice as she stares blankly at her daughter. Afterwards, Lydia asks Alice what she thinks. She struggles to say one word: “Love.”

The film, which is not the most uplifting out there, is still solid. As I mentioned before, the topic is highly relevant. Alzheimer’s is a real issue in this country. Beyond that, the film shows the impact that any chronic illness can have upon a family. Everyone becomes affected and everyone copes with the pain and suffering in a different way. It’s also interesting to watch Alice, an intellectual, handle what becomes a very emotional experience. She tries to use tricks and cues to keep her mind in order, but it’s not a battle that she can win. She knows that eventually the disease will get the better of her, and that she will lose something that has been her trademark for so many years—her mind. Alice struggles with this concept, to the point of even thinking of suicide.

These are big topics and dark themes. Certainly, what’s presented in Still Alice may not be for everyone. But for me I felt that there was a lot of payoff from this film.

All around, the acting is very well done. Of course, Julianne Moore is fantastic as Alice. She really is believable, and, although she’s definitely a highly driven academic-type, she’s still likable. Alec Baldwin, who I don’t often take very seriously, was actually quite good as John. He’s very literal, and walks a fine line between being unlikable and being someone who you can sympathize with. I give credit to Kristen Stewart.  The girl who I often complain acts with a blank stare in her eyes was actually better than normal in this film. I’m not saying her performance was Oscar caliber, but there’s been improvement from the days of Twilight. Kate Bosworth played eldest daughter Anna. She was fine, and it’s actually the first time I’ve seen Bosworth in anything recently. And Hunter Parrish plays son, Tom. He’s sort of just in the periphery for most of the movie.

If there’s one thing I can say that I did not like about Still Alice, it’s probably the musical score. I’m one of those people who pays close attention to the music in a movie, and this felt very repetitive. Instead of supporting the events that unfolded on screen, it was distracting to me like, “Oh, there’s that same melody, AGAIN.” Maybe there was a strategy behind that, but it just did not work for me.

Otherwise, I think that Still Alice was a solid production. It was well written, interesting to watch, and had good characters.

Thumbs up.

Still Alice

What He said:

He

Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) is a highly-respected professor at Columbia University. She is married with three children and has a very nice home. She serves as a guest lecturer at other schools around the country. The saying goes, “She has it all.” However, she is about to have it all taken away from her.

Still Alice

Not too far into the movie Alice is diagnosed with a very rare form of Alzheimer’s disease. She has only just turned 50, so this is shocking. Her husband (Alec Baldwin) is initially in denial about it, but once the test come in and confirm it – as well as rule everything else out – he accepts it. Their  children are shaken up, because not only is their mother going to forget who they are, there is a decent chance they could get it too. She suffers from familiar Alzheimer’s if any of her children carry the gene they are going to get it.
Everyone handles things differently and thus the reactions to this terrible news are various.

Alice herself tries to cope as best she can. She uses her phone, computer, and other technology to reminded her of things and test her memory. She is fighting a losing battle though, as this particular form of the disease seems to have no cure and moves at a rapid rate. Before she gets really bad, she wonders if she should take her own life when it gets to a point where she can’t take care of herself.

Still Alice

John (Alec Baldwin) is stuck in a really tough situation – and so his reaction is appropriately conflicting. He is upset, frustrated, and – as cold as it might sound – thinking of the future. See, he’s offered a job later in the movie. It’s a very good job and Alice doesn’t want to move, so he moves and leaves one of his daughters (Kristen Stewart) to take care of her; with the help of a paid caretaker. Some might think this is cold, but I see it as an unfortunate necessity. What is happening to Alice is terrible for both her and her family. But what is he supposed to do? Drop everything and sit next to her the rest of her life as she stares into space? That’s not fair to him. Plus, her care is going to cost a lot, so a new job is welcome. Even as someone who understands John’s motives, he still comes off a little cold. I guess it’s hard not to at a certain point. You’re confronted with a terrible situation and you either fold or you make the best of it; which can often seem cold and uncaring.

Oldest child Anna (Kate Bosworth) is initially very upset, but also cold/practical like John. There is something about her though that made her extremely unlikeable to me. I had an easier time accepting John’s demeanor, because after all he is the one providing for Alice’s care. Moving away and getting a new job might seem like an escape, but it’s still something he has to deal every day. He is the one responsible for her the rest of his life. Anna seemed to move past caring once she got over the initial sadness.

Kristen Stewart plays Lydia, the youngest. She and her mother have a rough relationship, because she chose not to go to college. She is an actor (theater) and has no plans to go to college. That aside, the two of them seem closer than any of her other children. This was one of Kristen Stewart’s better performances. She’s definitely progressing.

Still Alice

Hunter Parrish plays Tom, the middle child. It is implied that he is sort of a flake, particularly by Anna, but he seems to be by Alice’s side whenever he is shown after her diagnosis. Anna doesn’t seem to care for either one of her siblings come to think of it. This character is sort of just there. He isn’t bad, but doesn’t offer much either.

Ok, so there’s the deal. This movie got a lot of praise, Julianne Moore in particular. She won the best actress award in fact. The movie itself wasn’t even nominated. That’s exactly how I felt about this movie. Moore was very good. It was sad to watch what happened to her character, but the rest of the movie felt amateur to me. Most of the rest of the performances gave off a very made for TV vibe to me. I have a hard time buying Alec Baldwin in serious roles. He’s best in comedy and this movie reminds me why I feel that way. I just don’t believe this guy in serious roles. I don’t know if it’s because I disliked Kate Bosworth’s character so much or I actually didn’t like her performance, but something about her rubbed me the wrong way. The movie had a great leading performance, was pretty powerful at times, and about a very serious subject. But the rest of the movie was a little meh. Not bad, just ok.

Rating: Thumbs half up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on May 24, 2015.

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