Glasgow Film Festival: Julianne Moore excels as an Alzheimer's sufferer
'I wish I had cancer,' rages Alice (Julianne Moore). The focus may be soft, the music melancholy but, make no mistake, Still Alice is furious. This film from directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland sees a celebrated intellectual ravaged by Alzheimer's, aged just 50, destroying every semblance of the indomitable woman she once was.
Dr Alice Howland is a Professor of Linguistics at Columbia – she's a brilliant academic and author of a seminal textbook, her specialism making her fate especially cruel. She's also a superwoman, having raised three children as her career soared, clearly thriving on doing it all. When Alice starts to forget words she consults a neurologist who makes a swift, devastating diagnosis. Her husband John (Alec Baldwin) buries his head in his work but the news brings her closer to her youngest daughter Lydia (Kristen Stewart).
The close focus on Alice denies us insight into the real reactions of the rest of the family; Baldwin in particular is short-changed, as is Kate Bosworth as Anna, Alice's brittle eldest who has inherited the gene that causes the condition – but whose response to that news is tricky to gauge. This does, however, give us a sense of the world turning without Alice and her increasing irrelevancy, as decisions are reached that she, and we, are simply not party to.
The film is hobbled by a naff, TV-movie aesthetic and jarringly mawkish score. Yet Moore gives us raw heartache, running the gauntlet from fear to fury to powerless frustration, before she's barely there at all. It's a display of acting alchemy: as the disease digs in the spark goes out of her eyes. And Still Alice is more than a platform for a great performance – the substantial script ensures that this is a credibly angry tale; it confronts us by showing the merciless and terrifying trajectory of this degenerative disease, acting as a surprisingly incendiary reminder that the fight against it has barely even begun.
Screening on Sat 21 Feb and Sun 22 Feb as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2015. General release from Fri 6 Mar.