If you’re anything like me coming off of Oscar season, you have a long list of films that are now on your To Watch list (okay, you had that list on the journey up to the Oscars, but it’s ever more important now that the films have actually won something). I know it’s tempting to prioritize that list by which films won the most awards (those are surely the best ones, right?), but if you were to ask my opinion, Still Alice belongs at the top.
Sure, it’s not flashy like the other winners. Birdman looks like it’s filmed all in one shot. The Grand Budapest Hotel has that traditional Wes Anderson look. The Theory of Everything is the story of someone with a household name.
And Still Alice is about a fictional women with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. This is not a feel good movie. In fact, I started crying about ten minutes in and didn’t stop until the end. But it’s simple and insightful and full of performances that make the characters as real as anyone. That’s the point. Alice might not be real, but her story shows us the struggle of the 5 million people in the United States diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
It’s no coincidence that the only awards Still Alice was nominated for were for Julianne Moore as Best Actress or that she won every time, not just at the Oscars, but the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, the SAG Awards, and the Critic’s Choice Awards. The film is told from Alice’s perspective, which is why Moore’s role is so important (though I would argue that Glatzer and Westmoreland’s direction is worth some awards as well). She is the movie, it all hangs on her character, on her performance, and dear god does she deliver. The character goes through so many emotions in such rapid succession, each with its own layers of what she is actually feeling and what she wants her family to see. Amazingly, Julianne Moore pulls all this complexity off beautifully.
The story itself has a fairly simple concept that packs a big punch. Alice is a linguistics professor at Columbia University whose career, life and self-worth is partially tied to her intelligence. Education is a priority with her and her doctor husband, something they have managed to pass on to two of their three children. So when Alice’s memory starts to slip, she feels like her identity is being taken from her. In a semi-ironic twist, the person who most understands her isolation is her wayward, non-collegiate daughter played by Kristen Stewart in an equally moving performance.
Still Alice is based on the novel by Lisa Genova, who has a degree biopsychology and a PhD in neuroscience. Still Alice was her first novel, but since then she has tackled other types of cognitive impairments in Left Neglected, Love Anthony and her upcoming novel Inside the O’Briens.
I have not read the book myself and I’m not sure that I’m planning to (if I cried that much in the movie, I might die of dehydration reading the book), but the film did make me want to check out Genova’s other novels. From what I can tell, they are each written from the perspective of the impaired person, giving voice and insight to people suffering with not being able to express themselves.
That’s what I took away from the film – the frustration, anger and embarrassment that comes from not being able to say what Alice wants to say, from simple everyday thoughts to what she’s going through overall. Such insight and understanding should surely be enough to move this to the top of your list of films to see.