Alice Howland has a brilliant career. She's witty, happily married and the proud mother to three teenaged children. Then she begins to forget the odd word. She occasionally loses her sense of direction. Alice is concerned but she's barely fifty - how bad can it be? A visit to a consultant delivers the shocking news - she has Early-onset Alzheimer's Disease. Her life, and the lives of her friends and family, are turned upside down. But Alice refuses to be defined by her disease. Her memory may be fading but she her resolution stays strong.
Hollywood has a pretty unfortunate track record in handling medical conditions like Alzheimer's. Cinematic good intentions become hollow, over-sentimental tearjerkers. Fortunately, Still Alice avoids this trap. It spends its time creating carefully-drawn characters that you can believe in. Each step of Alice's mental deterioration is sensitively handled, whilst the devastation the disease wreaks on the family is heartbreakingly portrayed.
There's an understandable reaction to a film like this - why go see it? There won't be a magical cure appearing in the third act to save the day. A happy ending is not on the cards. So why see Still Alice?
The first and foremost reason is Julianne Moore. Moore has cleaned up during the recent awards season, winning virtually all the trophies she was nominated for. She capped this off with a Best Actress Oscar win. And rightly so. Her performance brilliantly conveys Alice's frustration at having to deal with the disease, the dementia that is slowly destroying her memory and her ability to communicate. It's often snidely remarked that portraying an affliction can fast-track you to Oscar success. Moore's restrained yet powerful performance is fully deserving of the accolades showered upon it.
Another reason to see this film is Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland's direction of their own screenplay, based on Lisa Genova's novel. They approach the material sensitively and with great care.
At the core of the film is Alice's resolve to not lie down and be a victim. She knows that the quality of her life is slowly being eaten away by Alzheimer's but she refuses to give up. In a memorable scene, Alice decides to speak at an Alzheimer's Association meeting. As a linguistics professor, this would have been a walk in the park - now it's an uphill struggle. Armed only with several sheets of paper, a highlighter pen and her steadfast determination, she battles on.
There are other, less challenging movies to go see but I strongly recommend you see Still Alice. It's not an easy watch but that's evidence of its power and its integrity. Ultimately, Still Alice is that increasingly rare artefact - an intelligent, thought-provoking film about real life issues, with characters you genuinely care about.