It’s hard to blame film fans for possibly being cynical going into “Still Alice.” The movie was showered with critical acclaim and awards season buzz long before its opening today in area theaters, and its very premise — a college professor, wife and mother grappling with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease — has the potential to come across as one-dimensional Oscar bait.
Cast those apprehensions aside: writing/directing team of Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, working with actress Julianne Moore in the title role, have crafted a profound work of cinematic empathy. “Still Alice” is a lovely, heartbreaking and unflinching look at Alzheimer’s and its effects on both the individual in suffering from the disease and their loved ones.
Moore, long one of the most consistent leading actresses in Hollywood, absolutely shines in this role. The momentum she has going into the Feb. 22 Academy Awards — honors from the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild, as well as from a number of critics’ organizations — is entirely earned. She deftly, subtly navigates the tumultuous, ever-changing inner life of a woman braving her way into indescribable mental and emotional struggle.
The film is anchored by Moore’s unflinching performance, but she is surrounded by a support team of ace players. Alec Baldwin, whom she showed such easy comedic chemistry with a few years back on “30 Rock,” provides hushed, nuanced accompaniment as Alice’s husband struggling to be supportive in the face of her diagnosis.
Likewise, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth and Hunter Parrish form a believable unit as Moore and Baldwin’s three children, even if Stewart ultimately gets the meatiest scenes to play alongside Moore.
Glatzer and Westmoreland, working from Lisa Genova’s novel, tell Alice’s story with equal parts dignity and clear-eyed resolved. The film recalls Michael Haneke’s Oscar-winning “Amour” in the way it uncompromisingly looks at a character’s mental decline.
However, “Still Alice” stands apart from “Amour” and countless other similar films by using sensitive camera work, editing and perspective to place viewers squarely in Alice’s shoes. We are taking this journey alongside Moore, not watching from the outside and looking in.
It’s a harrowing personal journey, and one that may be difficult to watch for viewers who have had any personal experience with a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia. But it’s also a beautiful, powerful film, one very much deserving of the praise it’s earned so far and all that’s inevitably still to come.