Film review of the drama about a female intellectual with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Julianne Moore won the Oscar for Best Actress in 2015 for playing this role.
Directors: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland. Lutzus-Brown/Killer Films/BSM et al. (12a)
Cast & credits
Producers: James Brown, Pamels Koffler, Lex Lutzus.
Writer: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland.
Camera: Denis Lenoir.
Music: Ilan Eshkeri.
Sets: Tommaso Ortino.
Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish, Shane McRae, Stephen Kunken.
Alice (Moore) is a celebrated Professor of linguistic development with a settled New York family life, husband Baldwin adores her and she has three very different but loving children in yummy-mummy Bosworth, doctor Howland and budding actress Stewart who lives in Los Angeles. Their lives are shattered when Alice is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s and have to readjust their lives as Alice’s once razor-sharp mind rapidly disintegrates.
Director Glatzer, who died on 10 March this year, is an inspiration to filmmakers all over the world. Diagnosed with the progressive neurodegenerative disease ALS, he directed much of this film from a wheelchair, using one finger on an iPad during later scenes.
Co-directing with his real-life husband Westmoreland, his condition helped inform their adaptation of the novel by Lisa Genova and, in no small way, assisted the intuitive and clever Moore toward a Best Actress Oscar for this quietly powerful performance.
To be fair, the competition in 2015 wasn’t that hot and experts facing the fragility of the human body was also in vogue this year (Eddie Redmayne winning the Best Actor Oscar as Stephen Hawking in The Theory Of Everything)
The film concentrates on the confusion and mental deterioration rather than the physical side of Alzheimer’s, meaning Moore doesn’t have the assistance of make-up artists and cameraman. She instead has to rely on the subtleties of expression and voice to convey the sense of loss and disorientation Alice experiences.
The gradual progression of the disease is represented by her vacant and confused stares, slowed speech and hesitant movements, all the while retaining her innate intelligence, dimmed but still Alice. The only physical sign that things are not right is her messier hair.
Only Moore has skill to employ such an approach and not grand stand or shriek and wail, but you’re made of rough-hewn granite if you don’t shed a tear at her passionate speech at an Alzheimer’s Society conference when she really starts to let rip. It is an emotionally wrenching and heartfelt plea for understanding. She is devastatingly effective here, and also in the final scenes when she appears a shell of her former self.
The cruel irony that Moore, as a leading expert of human communication and having spent a life cramming her brain with knowledge, loses the ability to recall even the most simple of details, is not lost on the script and remains a key theme of the writing. This is no simple made-for-TV, hankies-at-the-ready movie neatly tied up with a happy ending; her family are increasingly frustrated by the loss of their matriarch to the point where the house will be broken up.
The supporting cast do their best to keep the camera interested in them and not break into tears at the slightest nod of Moore’s head, with Baldwin especially good as her academic husband who is frustrated not only at how modern science cannot help his wife, but also at the woman who is slowly falling away from him.
This loss is shown cinematically when, at key moments, the background become fuzzy, representing not only Alice’s disorientation (such as when she goes for a run in familiar locations) but also her increasing distance from the people around her.