Friday, February 13, 2015

"Still Alice": Moore Saves From Mediocrity

Now In Theaters

Oscar Nominations

Best Lead Actress - Julianne Moore

Still Alice is not a great movie.  It barely even qualifies as a good movie.  There’s nothing wrong with it per se, but the type of film it is feels like it belongs on the Lifetime channel as a Movie of the Week.  There are no real character arcs or much in the way of cinematic artistry; any attempts to make interesting statements through the medium come off as basic and ultimately inconsequential.  This is a sad film about a woman suffering from a disease, and the film serves its purpose in acting as a by-the-numbers terminal illness sympathy-inducer that isn’t ambitious beyond its casting choices.  And while big names like Kristen Stewart and Alec Baldwin simply play versions of the same personas we’ve seen them adopt time and again, Julianne Moore as the titular Alice delivers this film from the depths of mediocrity into being a showcase for the range of her abilities.

Alice is a college linguistics professor who starts to exhibit symptoms of forgetfulness, disorientation and confusion.  She goes to see a neurologist and is eventually diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, a rare form of the disease that she learns was likely hereditary and may have been passed on to her children.  And that’s pretty much the breadth of the film’s scope, as we watch Alice’s deterioration over time and her family’s attempts to cope with the changes inherent in that.  The plot is fairly typical, with the film’s high point being in the culmination of a far-gone Alice discovering a video from past self inducing her to commit suicide, but beyond that, there is little in the way of dramatic tension or theming to push the story forward.  The point is that Alzheimer’s is a bad thing, and it is sad to watch someone’s mind be lost to it.  Point made.  The most creative thing the directors decide to do with this concept is place surroundings that Alice cannot remember out of the camera’s focus and use cuts to mask extreme passages of time, but this is about as basic as cinematic symbolism gets and should only seem profound to the theatrically illiterate.

The only thing that actually makes this film worth seeing is Julianne Moore’s Oscar-nominated performance, and I can tell why the Academy latched on to her.  Moore subtly telegraphs her disease from the film’s first scene, long before her character is ever diagnosed, and the transformation she experiences feels gradual and horrifying.  She has her good days and her bad days, and the way she jumps between the two while still portraying that Alice is decidedly getting worse is simply masterful.  For much of the film, she’s still the same old Alice that we’ve come to know and admire for her intelligence and articulate nature, but she gradually loses those pieces that have been the cornerstone of her identity, and by the end of the film, it’s hard to tell if who we are seeing is, in fact, still Alice.  It’s a great performance that deserves the Academy’s recognition.

However, other than Moore’s performance, the film feels rather pedestrian and uninspired.  I wouldn’t have called it a bad film without Moore, but I certainly wouldn’t have considered it noteworthy either.  Ultimately, this functions best as an actress’s showcase, and not much else.  If you’re interested in seeing what the Oscar buzz is about, go ahead and see Still Alice.  If you couldn’t care less, then there really isn’t anything in this film here for you.

Can you think of another mediocre film saved by a great performance?  Leave your remembrances in the comments below.

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