Monday, February 23, 2015

Still Alice Review

I don't know how it started, but last year everyone dumped a bucket of ice water on their heads in support of the terrible disease of ALS. This caused a whole ton of money to be raised for ALS which I think is rather fantastic. Later in the year, we then got a movie about a man named Stephen Hawking who suffers from that disease. That movie was called The Theory of Everything. I hope I don't sound insensitive towards Stephen Hawking or anyone who suffers from ALS, but I actually wasn't super impressed with the movie, mainly because I've always had mixed emotions about Stephen Hawking. His survival is an inspirational story, but outside that he's kind of a jerk. I bring this up because there's another movie that just got released that I find a lot of similarities to The Theory of Everything. As the title of this review revealed, that is Still Alice. We didn't dump buckets of ice water on our heads in support of Alzheimer's disease, but maybe we should do something like that because it is also a terrible disease. We did get a movie, though, which I think everyone should go see. While The Theory of Everything failed to connect with me emotionally, Still Alice actually hit home.

Perhaps part of the reason why Still Alice didn't get as much popularity is because it's not a biopic of a super famous scientist. Rather it's just based off a novel of the same name by Lisa Genova, who writes fictional novels about characters dealing with neurological disorders. In Still Alice we start with a very normal family. Alice, the mother of the family, is a professor of Linguistics at Columbia University. Her husband, John, is a successful businessman. They have three kids who are all grown up. Their oldest daughter and their son live fairly close. The oldest daughter, Anna, is married and pregnant with twins while their son, Tom, is happily dating a girl. The youngest daughter, Lydia, lives on the other side of the country and has a bit of a rocky relationship with her mother because she is pushing her hard to go to college while she instead wants to find success in theater. Things get really interesting as Alice visits her neurologist and gets diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. This changes the family dynamic as they all have to try to figure out how to properly deal with this new challenge.

Like I've said, Alzheimer's disease is an awful disease in and of itself. However, what makes it worse is the fact that there is no cure. Slowly losing your memory and the ability to perform simple tasks is definitely a traumatic experience for those who have this disease. There was a time in my life when I regularly visited an Alzheimer's unit and it is truly sad to see these great individuals who have lived great lives suffer from this disease because they have lost the ability to function as a normal human being. It's also sad knowing that there is nothing that can be done to prevent or cure this disease. You just have to love and support these individuals. In my opinion, this movie did an excellent job of portraying how sad this is. It's really heart-wrenching as you watch this amazing woman played by Julianne Moore start to deteriorate mentally. It's also really hard to watch her family deal with this. Suddenly I put myself into their shoes. What if down the road I was diagnosed with this disease. How would I react? How would I feel? Also down the road, what if my wife was diagnosed with this disease? What would I do? How would I help her. Finally, what if either of my parents were diagnosed? How would I deal with this? Suddenly as I was thinking of all this while I was watching this movie, I was almost brought to tears because it effected me so heavily. I felt for these characters. More importantly, I started to feel for those in real life who have had to go through this. It was a very emotional experience for me.

What really makes this work are excellent performances by the whole cast. I want to focus on three of those individuals that played the biggest roles. First and foremost is Julianne Moore as Alice. She just won best actress at the Oscars and let me tell you that this was well deserved. I think this was really hard because she not only had to play one character who acted a certain way, but as her character continued to deteriorate, it was as if she was playing multiple characters that had different levels of this disease. Her transition through this process feels very natural and unforced, which made it beautiful. Without spoiling what happens, there is a point in the movie where Alice, still very normal, records a message for her future self. Towards the end when she has deteriorated quite a bit, she watches this message and this is the point where Julianne Moore's performance really hit home for me because in that scene you are able to see what Julianne Moore has pulled off in this movie. It's amazing! And Alec Baldwin as her husband also did a great job. His character is faced with a major dilemma and I didn't really like the choice he made in the end, but Baldwin pulled off an excellent performance. It's also interesting that he has now played the husband of the last two best actress winners at the Oscars. He should get some sort of award for that. Or at the very least, if he plays another husband this year, whoever is playing his wife should be excited because she might be up for an award.

Next up is a woman who is one of the most made fun of actresses. She has a reputation of being one of the worst actresses in the business. That's Kristen Stewart. I'm here to tell you that this woman does know how to act. I've felt for a long time now that her awful performance in Twilight can be attributed more to a poorly written character than anything else. Maybe she didn't care. Maybe she doesn't always give her best. But to always look at her as a horrible actress and use her as a forever punchline that will never do any good is unfair in my opinion. Because yes, she does a great job in this. She shows all kinds of different emotions that a daughter would normally when learning that her mother has Alzheimer's. Being that they didn't have the best relationship before the diagnosis, I actually enjoyed watching their relationship develop over the course of the movie. If I have one complaint, it's that there wasn't enough of Kristen Stewart because I really loved her character. When she was on the screen, she totally nailed her performance. She was good enough that I would've liked to see her get a best supporting actress nomination. Yes, you heard that right. And early word on her performance in Clouds of Sils Maria is strong. She was even the first American actress ever to win best supporting actress at the Cesar Awards in France just recently. An Oscar nomination this upcoming year?

In the end, Still Alice is a movie that I searched out so that I could see Julianne Moore's Oscar-winning performance and not only was I blown away by Moore's performance, but I was really emotionally touched. Still Alice is a great movie that deals with a very delicate subject in an excellent way. I felt for Julianne Moore's character as she had to deal with this revelation. I also felt for her whole family as they had to deal with their mother's diagnosis. This movie is very well written with a great direction and superb performances from the entire cast. Yes, Rosamund Pike was my favorite performance from an actress last year, but I'm not complaining at all with Julianne Moore's win. And yes, I think Kristen Stewart did a phenomenal job as well. People should really stop seeing her as the worst actress in Hollywood because she's not. My grade for Still Alice is a 9/10.

5 comments:

  1. Hmmm. I'm reminded of when I was in high school and I had to suffer through Titanic, courtesy of my mother and sister, as well as Romeo and Juliette, thank you English teacher. It took me roughly a decade and a half to forgive Leo DiCapprio for those movies, what with Django Unchained, Catch Me if You Can, and Inception now under his belt. So, it may take awhile for me to forgive Kristen Stewart for the Twilight movies, but it's possible.

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    1. I think it's always good to go into a movie with an open mind, especially with the actors. Don't hate on an actor or actress for their whole career or a decade and a half because they did a performance that you didn't like. I've always loved Leo, despite not being much of a fan of the movies you mentioned. If you hated him for a decade and a half, there's a lot of movies that you missed or could've enjoyed more because he's done a lot of great things in his career

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    2. Oh, I don't know about that... after all, all the movies I "missed" are still available for watching, yes? ;)

      I only meant to point out that it can take some time for one's perspectives to change, but it is possible.

      Stewart has one check under "good" and half a dozen under "not good." It will take some time for her to transform her reputation, but if she's as good as you say, then that is just a matter of time.

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    3. Actually, Stewart has a lot more checks under "good" than you give her credit for. First thing's first, three from last year under good. But that's not all. Yes, she has Twilight under not good, but since that's one role, that really should count as one. not five. As I said, I honestly believe that a lot of the blame for her bad performance in Twilight is mainly due to a poorly written character. You say it's going to take time for her to transform her reputation because she's only had one good role? No sir. This is the point I'm trying to make. She's had multiple good roles. She's proven herself to be a capable actress. But so many people, you included, judge her whole career based off of one bad performance as Bella in Twilight. That, my friend, is not fair.

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