Still Alice puts you in the shoes of someone with early onset Alzheimer's Disease, so take a moment and ask yourself if that's a vicarious experience you want to have. I didn't. Alzheimer's scares the crap out of me. The idea of having your memories, your sense of you, stripped away is terrifying. I watched the film only because it's part of my job description. Just before it started, I took a few deep breaths, put my misgivings on the shelf and resolved to give it a fair shot. And that's what I did.
Ideally, this is the point where I tell you how rewarding the film turned out to be, but it wasn't for me. Star Julianne Moore will likely win an Academy Award for her performance, and her nuanced work here is certainly deserving. Kristen Stewart is also quite good as one of her kids. Is it worth being miserable to watch their efforts? I don't think so, and I've recommended a lot of "feel-bad" movies over the years.
Look, Alzheimer's Disease is fucking horrible. And it's real. It's right out there, striking at our loved ones — and maybe you or me someday. I wouldn't want to go see a movie that shares the experience of shingles, so why in the world would I want to do so with this nightmare disease? Seeing it from the perspective of the afflicted person adds no insight. The philosophy of Moore's character is one many of us have adopted long ago.
While the relationship between Moore and Stewart's characters is interesting, most of the film follows well-traveled roads. It's defiantly non-sentimental, but writer-directors Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer, working from Lisa Genova's novel, still aim at the mainstream audience. The family looks like it lives next door to the families in Woody Allen movies. Alice (Moore) is a highly respected linguistics professor at Columbia. Her husband John (Alec Baldwin in a thankless role) is a biologist. The kids (Stewart, Hunter Parrish and Kate Bosworth) are are upscale NYC types, by behavior if not occupation.
Alice's onscreen journey doesn't go all the way to her death, but what it shows is harrowing. Of course, the story also includes a momentary triumph — a speech before a big crowd — that allows Alice to receive a standing ovation. If only all the individuals living with Alzheimer's could be celebrated for their triumphs. If only all their caregivers could be celebrated for their dedication.
One of the great things about youth is the sense of invulnerability. My guess is that on those rare occasions where young people even consider Alzheimer's, they assume that it will be cured before they reach the typical age for its onset. I suspect they will be right.
For the rest of us, Alzheimer's remains one of a number of grim possibilities that come with advanced age. We forget things and wonder if that's just part of being human or if it's an early sign of dementia. We use memory tricks and worry about what our need for them may indicate. Life is amazing. Wondrous. It's also tough, especially in the last third.