We’ve been putting off watching Still Alice for a while now, because we knew it was going to be the saddest film since The Champ, maybe even sadder. However, now that the DVD is out we finally stumped up the will power to make it through the tear-jerking story of linguistic professor, Alice Howland’s battle with a rare strain of early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Though it is indeed incredibly sad, it’s also remarkably insightful, thought provoking and inspirational in a way we genuinely didn’t expect from a film that could only ever have an unhappy ending.
There are so many times when it gets you bad with scenes that are heartbreaking to watch on so many levels. However, our initial view from the first half hour or so was that it felt lacking in depth and that it could hold no surprises, but the latter two thirds deliver much more than anticipated, adding extra elements of complexity to the situation for Alice and her grown-up family and delving into the intricate emotions that the devastating news brings.
While it’s inevitably a challenging film to watch, it’s also very rewarding with a lot of warmth and good humour coming through from a series of touching little moments that are placed brilliantly here and there as the story unfolds. These are added to by an array of incredibly poignant scenes that build around the themes of loss, the importance of memory, the nature of existence and the bonds of family that remind you that it’s all about today, and while we know that sounds a bit wet, it’s still true nonetheless. For example, when Alice dismisses her husband’s frustration at the slowness of a hospital lift with the line, “it doesn’t matter”, it’s pretty clear that it’s as much a reference to all of life’s insignificant foibles, as a reference to a tardy elevator.
There are also a number of small, clever touches that ground the film incredibly in simple reality; like Alice’s obsession with playing Words With Friends with her eldest daughter Anna or the little family squabbles that descend into childish expletives. They give the movie a lot of credibility and instill it with empathetic charm that’s easy to associate with.
Julianne Moore is genuinely incredible in the lead role as Alice, proving quickly why she went on to win an Oscar at the 2015 Academy Awards for her performance. If you’re ever lucky enough to make a movie, you should probably cast her if you can, no matter what the film is about. She’ll make it a million miles better, because she’s got an innate ability to connect with any role she plays, whether it’s an early onset Alzheimer’s struggler, the president of District 13 in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I or a cheating wife in Crazy, Stupid Love.
Sadly, not all of the performances are quite as strong as Julianne Moore’s, and when they dip it becomes all the more acute when stacked up next to her. Alec Baldwin (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation) isn’t on top form for the first half of the movie, seeming a little clumsy at times, but he grows into the character of Alice’s husband, John, as the story develops with a number of very impressive scenes later on in the film.
Kate Bosworth and Hunter Parish play their parts as Alice’s eldest daughter Anna and son Tom well enough, but there are a couple of points where they just appear to be making up the numbers and counting the clock. However, that’s definitely not the case with Kristen Stewart (American Ultra), who nails the role of younger daughter Lydia, giving a lot of balance to the performance as she tries to support her mum, while also keeping her own plans of working as an actress vaguely on track.
Diseases like Alzheimer’s are baffling and frightening and yet it seems incredible that in our modern age of technical advancement that a treatment hasn’t been discovered to halt its progress, let alone cure it in its entirety. You can get a camera phone web browsing answer buddy that fits in your pocket and they’ve managed to track down the Higgs Boson – the slippery little sucker – but still there are diseases that we have no control over. It’s this fundamental reality that Still Alice lands so well, along with the consequences of such diseases on the patient and everyone close to them, and the inspiration that should give to anyone watching it to grab a hold of life and take it for a proper spin.
The speech that Alice makes as she’s well into the advancing symptoms of the disease is incredible, with more emotion than a year’s worth of weepy TV movies. It’s reason enough to watch the film for all by itself, even if it’s just to rent, but to be honest there’s so much wrapped up in the film that we can see this being a DVD that could be watched a number of times, and you’d still find new levels of sadness and inspiration in equal measures.
Still Alice DVD review: 4/5