Julianne Moore deserves all the accolades she has received for starring in “Still Alice.” It’s the sort of authentic performance that wins Oscars, capturing the full measure of an individual grasping to hold on amid the crushing realities of early-onset Alzheimer’s.
This is tricky work, requiring a balance between the inherent dignity and intelligence of college professor Alice Howland, the dawning awareness of her condition and the increasing helplessness it causes as the fog sets in. It’s managed with such grace by the veteran actress that you can easily see a scenario where this character and the movie surrounding her serve a genuine therapeutic function for real-life victims and their loved ones.
The film is a naturalistic portrait of the disease’s ravages, played out with an absence of embellishments in the way it shows a woman struggling to retain some sense of self while her family copes with the gradual disappearance of the wife and mom they’d always known.
There needs to be some sort of higher gear, though, a reason to be invested in these characters and their lives beyond the simple fact of Alzheimer’s. The movie defines Alice almost exclusively by her affliction. There’s an inherent measure of sympathy but ultimately rather little to the film beyond its painstaking deconstruction of this experience. We are sad because we must be sad, not because the plight of this specific person especially matters.
Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, co-directors and adapters of Lisa Genova’s novel, take a straightforward approach to the material that relies on Moore to complicate scenes bathed in natural light and structured to do little but remind you how sad and terrible it is to be stricken with this disease. The condition worsens, Moore’s face grows increasingly distant, Alice’s family anguishes. The movie wants tears but never quite earns them.