Dr. Alice Howland is at the top of her game as both a linguistics professor and a smart, sophisticated and sexy New York woman in her fifties, played by Julianne Moore in the wrenching new drama Still Alice.
At the family dinner that opens the movie, she carries herself like a bright and vibrant sunrise — until she has an uncharacteristic memory lapse so slight it goes unnoticed by her husband and adult children. Yet it is the first drop of the downpour about to wash away her faculties.
Not much later, on a jog around the Columbia University campus where she works, Howland stops to catch her breath and realizes she recognizes none of the terrain; it's as if she's been dropped on an alien planet. Once she gets her bearings and finds her way home, she's loathe to tell John, her physician husband (Alec Baldwin), that anything's amiss. But the faltering memories and halting conversation reveal themselves enough to prompt a doctor visit, where a series of word association puzzles reveals the diagnosis: early onset Alzheimer's disease.
While her family rallies around her (Kate Bosworth and Kristen Stewart play her daughters, Hunter Parrish her son), Howland maintains a fretful state of hopeful denial juxtaposed with harsh reality. She creates memory tests for herself on a kitchen chalkboard, and feeds personal questions into her smart phone's Notes app, figuring that if the disease progresses to the point where she can't answer them, she'll be forced to make an irrevocable decision.
Based on a novel by Lisa Genova, Still Alice is directed and adapted for the screen by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westomoreland, life partners who invested in the project after Glatzer’s diagnosis with ALS. Knowing this makes a scene such as Alice's frantic search for the bathroom in her family's familiar second home all the more painful. Sarah Polley's 2006 Away From Her, with Julie Christie, covered similar material, but the combination of Moore's beautifully etched performance and her character’s relatively invulnerable age drive this film devastatingly closer to home.
Still Alice | Dir. Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland | 101 min. | Tivoli Cinemas, 4050 Pennsylvania, Kansas City, Mo., 64111, 816-383-7756