Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Still Alice

Give Julianne Moore the Oscar already

     The major reason we went to Still Alice was to see Julianne Moore, who hasn’t won the Oscar, though she’s been nominated four times in the past.   She’s the leading contender this year because she delivers a heartbreaker of a
performance about a very hot medical subject right now – early onset Alzheimer’s.  The other well-publicized disease is ALS, which co-writer and director Richard Glatzer is battling.  

Alice Testing Her Memory
     I haven’t read the source novel by Lisa Genova, but the script was stronger than some reviewers had led me to expect.  Where the movie weakens is in its embrace of American consumer-porn.  At one point, Neil and I wondered what a family would do without the economic resources of the Howlands.  Or what choices would a single person do in this situation?  Although Alice’s neurologist points out that early onset Alzheimer’s seems to occur more frequently in the intelligent, it also seems to occur more frequently in the upper-middle class (if recent American movies and plays are to be believed).  Or maybe it’s because American domestic dramas portray that class almost exclusively at least back to the Technicolor days of Douglas Sirk/Ross Hunter.  

Julianne Moore and Kristen Stewart
     It’s unfair of me to lay the weight of classism on this movie, which only wants to touch and inform us and do so through some lovely acting by Moore and also by Kristen Stewart (believe it or not) as her younger daughter.  There are a number of times when finances are discussed by the characters (an almost unheard of topic in current American movies), but the comforts of home are on spectacular display.  Glatzer and his husband Wash Westmoreland had the guts to realistically examine working class Chicanos in Quinceañera (2006) and the seamy underside of the adult film industry in The Fluffer (2001) so they’re working with the milieu they’ve found in Genova’s work. 

Moore with Baldwin
     Moore has an easy chemistry with Alec Baldwin as Alice’s husband from their relationship together on 30 Rock, but I wished for Dennis Quaid because he was electrically ambivalent with her in Far from Heaven (2002) and convincingly played a college professor in Smart People (2008).  Baldwin brings a lot of baggage with him to a role and I have a tough time erasing his Jack Donaghy from my mind when I watch him.  Nonetheless, this doesn’t matter because it’s Moore’s movie.  The best scene is one she plays against herself.  Alice leaves a video of herself early in her illness for later.  The full range of her talent burns through when the after faces the before and she’s unable to follow through with a decision she’d made months earlier.  That’s when the American fear of death trumps the American fear of poverty.

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