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Review: Still Alice

Still Alice could have easily been called Still Acting, and would not have been any more or less successful.

Still Alice does not function well as a conventional narrative, but flourishes more as a showcase for actors to do some acting, and mainly succeeds in the regard. The masterful performance of Julianne Moore barely surprises. Moore plays cognitive psychology professor Dr. Alice Howland of Harvard University, who cruelly learns that she has early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

What does surprise is the performance by Kristen Stewart, who plays Lydia, one of her daughters in the film. Stewart’s persona seems to fits perfectly with the role. Lydia is a struggling actress, which Stewart certainly will not be after this performance.

Directed by Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer, partners on and off screen, and based on the bestselling book by Lisa Genova, it would not be unkind to say that Still Alice is a fairly straightforward film. The main struggle is no struggle at all, as after Alice first receives her diagnosis, the film rules out pretty much immediately that there is any hope for a cure or treatment. Instead, the film focusses upon different responses to tragedy, mainly done by her family, which includes Alec Baldwin as Alice’s husband John, a successful professor in his own right, Hunter Parrish from Weeds as her son Tom, and shockingly, as she has not been heard from in quite a while, Kate Bosworth, as Alice’s eldest daughter, Anna. The responses from her family to Alice’s disease include indifference, mild concern, acting out, sublimation, running away, (the actions of one family member seem completely unconscionable), and finally, the film’s determined proper response from Alice’s daughter, which will not be spoiled here, as it is quite literally the last line of the movie, bringing the proceedings to a unexpected halt.

Yet some elements of the movie that linger onwards, such as Alice gaining huge scores in Words with Friends at the start of the film, and then barely struggling to play a six-point word, (also an amusing nod to co-star Baldwin, a serious WwF player). There are also some interesting scenes formulated around Stewart’s Lydia and a play, (as well as her diary, for which she is not so pleased that her mother is snooping around). It becomes clear that, at its heart, Still Alice is a story about a mother and a daughter, and an impetus to bring them closer together. Alice’s condition surprisingly becomes less interesting in and of itself, (scenes of her struggling to remember are increasingly unnecessary, and make us feel immense pity for Moore, seemingly to be the point). It seems that almost anything could have brought Alice and Lydia back together after an estrangement, though what they share at the end is heartbreaking, and reveals they are both worthy of praise. Though Moore will likely be rewarded with the Best Actress Oscar, it is obvious that Stewart is destined to become a star.

[star v=3]