(SPOILERS) A worthy movie from a worthy book (of the same name, by Lisa Genova), worthily scripted, directed and acted and scored. Still Alice is so thoroughly commendable, it’s exhausting. Still, Alice got Julianne her Oscar, so there’s a result right there.
Actors always say they never do it for the awards, but the Oscar bait of a disability role can’t not go through their heads at some point. Still Alice is destined to be go down in the annals with other forgotten movies that garnered the acting gong for deserving thesps but in the wrong the picture; there’s Jeff Bridges in another Crazy Heart, then there’s Jessica Lange in Blue Sky. Moore’s good here of course, so why not? Well, because nothing here, save maybe one scene, remotely struggles beyond its well-meaning, consciousness-raising, issue-led scenario. It doesn’t even want you to take too much despair home with you so cuts before things get really bad.
Columbia University linguistics professor Alice Howard learns, following her fiftieth birthday, that she has early onset Alzheimer’s disease. From there, her deterioration is steady, as her family (including Alec Baldwin as hubby John and Kristen Stewart as Lydia, one of her three children) reacts variably but essentially supportively.
Richard Glatzler and Wash Westmoreland, who also penned the screenplay, direct sensitively and subtly, and the performances are strong all round. You’d expect that of Moore and Baldwin of course, but Stewart, who gets a lot of post-Twilight stick that seems to revolve around the precept she can’t act, is particularly notable as the combative daughter who eventually takes the carer role (Kate Bosworth is almost unrecognisable as the more ordered and controlling sibling).
There are notable individual vignettes of the difficulties Alice faces; the first time she gets lost jogging on campus, wetting herself through not being able to find the bathroom in her own house, not recognising her daughters and introducing herself twice to her son’s new girlfriend. The only point where the picture actually manages to grab the viewer, though, is Alice’s pre-recorded suicide instruction to her future self. In a sequence of borderline black comedy, Alice cant follow through and take the prescribed overdose because she keeps leaving her laptop behind to go to the bedroom, and has forgotten the instructions by the time she gets there.
Elsewhere, the sad piano and sad violins striking up every few minutes give an indication of how staidly button-pushing this is. It’s a variant on the “privileged upper middle class white family with problems” movie (which probably go back to the far superior Ordinary People), one clearly identifying itself as serving an educational purpose when Alice goes to speak at an Alzheimer’s Association conference (and gets a standing ovation) or visits a care home to check out the degredation. I wondered if it would be revealed that Baldwin’s career-minded other half was having an affair, but the picture is too doggedly well meaning for such a twist.