Corrina Antrobus @corrinacorrina
A best selling weepy with a critically acclaimed cast? No wonder there’s an Oscar whiff about the theatrical adaptation of Lisa Genova’s book Still Alice. This $5m to make movie entered Toronto Film Festival with no distribution ties and left with the wet ink of Sony Pictures Classics (and not a dry eye in the house).
This is no drama, it’s more of a horror story for anyone with a bird brain. Ever forgotten to put the cat out? Prepare for dread as the film’s relatable events lead to the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.
Dr Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) is a renowned language professor, but her finesse for linguistics ebbs away as disease creeps in at just 50-years-old.
Film-makers and married couple Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland quickly establish Alice’s happy, honey- dew world then get to work with dismembering it bit by sorry bit. Her achingly-attractive brood (Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish and Kristen Stewart) and her doting neuro-specialist husband Dr John Howland (Alec Baldwin), nest in the kind of home that serve cheese and wine for dessert as standard.
It’s all very enviable yet Alice and John are humble, not smug, something that needed careful consideration in the casting. Julianne Moore (who ‘called right back’ after reading the script) and Alec Baldwin are eloquently apt and you feel they’ve earned the wealth they enjoy. The grief of Alice’s sanity is all the more disturbing when delivered by the compassionate character Moore is able to stir, and we’re intimately strapped into her suffering through the blurs of her vision and the avalanching atmospheres she experiences during her decay.
Each family member has a different coping mechanism from denial to distraction. John disassociates himself from the pitying routines of her pill-popping and uses work as a safety blanket. However it’s the mother-daughter relationship between Alice and Lydia (Kristen Stewart) where reality is confronted and really cajoles the tear- jerking sentiment.
Alice’s Doctor (Stephen Kunken) has a slow uncurling presence, visually and characteristically, and may be the embodiment of the disease itself; When Alice’s fears are mere niggles he is a faceless and inquisitive little voice in the surgery. But as her whispering concerns become bellows of acknowledgement, he is given some dynamism with flesh, bones and character.
Still Alice doesn’t luxuriate in the grief or gorge on the doom, nor are we bamboozled with medical jargon. This
is synonymous with the respectfully-adapted book yet the novel does offer a strand of hope in the form of a fictitious preventative medicine, a drug that the book claims ‘aims a couple of leaky squirt guns at a blazing fire’. The theatrical narrative doesn’t flirt with such ambition, wisely choosing to concentrate on acceptance. Alice’s conclusive diagnosis may have suffered sensationalism if presented with a spike of faith and instead we experience the gentle wilt of a life well lived.
Another theme echoed from Genova’s originally self-published novel inspired by her grandmother’s Alzheimers, is the penchant for showboating nature. The leafy exteriors, oceanic scenes and earthy-coloured wardrobes wallpaper the film as if insisting the beauty in this warts-and-all-world.
What’s stark and successful with this story is how relatable it is. Who hasn’t found themselves in a room wondering what the hell they are doing there? After watching this film the significance of such glitches can’t fail to magnify. Anyone who’s had experiences of any mind-decaying disease will recognise the anguish that ripples through each character and will relate to the tender scenes of clinging on whilst relishing life.
Director Richard Glatzer ineluctably hones his own experiences of dealing with disease into his and his husband’s film surely aiding its sincerity. Since 2011 he has struggled with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) which has now made him speechless without the use of an iPad app named Ryan.
Still Alice is an elegant handling of an ugly illness and despite the despair somehow has a cushion of hope. A superb adaptation and a memorable performance from Julianne Moore gift us a story that resonates with the footnote that love and family are the cure to life’s ills.
Still alice is on general release from Friday March 6th