It isn't a spoiler to reveal that Still Alice doesn't have a happy ending. Alzheimer's disease doesn't allow for that, at least not in a conventional sense. Joy comes in a life fully lived, and how loved ones preserve it.
In that regard, the way Still Alice ends can leave you feeling pretty good. For all of its movie-of-the-week mechanics, this is a deeply moving dramatization of what Alzheimer's does to mind and spirit, anchored by the finest performance, male or female, from any 2014 movie release.
Oh, yes, Julianne Moore will win the best actress Academy Award on Feb. 22. Hands down, no doubt, take it to the bank. Overdue, if you ask me and other longtime admirers. But this won't be one of Oscar's make-right selections, after five nominations. Without reaching for sympathy, Moore wins it; the tragedy lies in her character's intelligence that is irrevocably slipping away.
Alice Howland is a linguistics professor at Columbia University, a dynamic woman at the top of her field. One day a word escapes her in a lecture she's delivered plenty of times. That's just silly. Later the memory lapse is scarier, as she loses her way on a Central Park jog. Alice visits physicians with her increasingly concerned husband, John (Alec Baldwin), and receives a devastating diagnosis.
Early onset Alzheimer's, relatively uncommon for a 50-year-old woman. Alice proceeds with her life, teaching until she can't, loving John and their grown children (Kristen Stewart, Hunter Parrish), clinging to memories.
Directors and co-writers Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland are familiar with debilitating disease; they're married and Glatzer lives with ALS. Their support-circle insight is evident in Still Alice, with Baldwin and Stewart (not the underwritten Parrish) coping with Alice's condition and avoiding some of the drama that a movie about Alzheimer's might include. Still Alice doesn't depend upon big emotional moments, no breakdowns or shouting at the heavens, for a reason why.
Baldwin's previous roles don't prepare viewers for how genuinely supportive he plays it here. The actor usually plays rogues who might slip away for an affair, a distracting possibility until it clearly won't happen. Same with Stewart, whose aloof image turns surprisingly warm. Good for the actors' range but not necessarily the story. Something like the "moving on" extramarital tension in 2006's Away From Her might make Still Alice an even richer emotional experience.
However, you can't imagine Moore doing anything differently. Her eyes speak more eloquently than the dialogue, pouring out confidence, then confusion, fear and ultimately only a flicker of recognition. She will break your heart and mend it at once.
Contact Steve Persall at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.