We’re all familiar with the Hollywood cliché that playing a character with a disease or disability is an attention-grabbing ploy for winning an Oscar, but what is remarkable about Julianne Moore’s Oscar-winning performance in Still Alice is just how subtle and un-showy it is. Playing a linguistics professor with early-onset Alzheimer’s, she avoids look-at-me grandstanding in favour of nuance – and is all the more moving for it.
The subtlety begins with the first, almost imperceptible signs that Moore’s 50-year-old Alice has the disease: a tiny conversational slip at a party with husband John (Alec Baldwin) and grown-up children Anna (Kate Bosworth), Tom (Hunter Parrish) and Lydia (Kristen Stewart), forgetting the word ‘lexicon’ in the middle of a lecture, and, more alarmingly, losing her bearings during a jog, right at the heart of the New York university campus where she teaches.
And, as the disease takes hold, Moore is similarly understated in conveying stage by stage what it is like for Alice to lose other bearings, to be stripped by degrees of more and more of the skills she has always valued, more and more of the memories that make her who she is.
There’s nothing showy, either, about the way writer-directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, adapting Lisa Genova’s bestselling novel, go about telling Alice’s story; their approach is straightforwardly direct without ever lapsing into disease-of-the-week TV movie blandness. Indeed, such is the film’s restraint that when Alice, by now almost infantilised by her disease, comes upon a video message she made to herself while in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, the contrast between then and now is shocking, and heartbreaking.
Certificate 12A. Runtime 101 mins. Directors Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland.
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