In 2007, neuroscientist and writer Lisa Genova released her novel Still Alice; it would find a home on The New York Times best-seller list for more than 40 weeks.
That book has been adapted into a film starring Julianne Moore, and the Palm Springs International Film Festival honored her with the Desert Palm Achievement Award for her performance. I caught a screening of Still Alice as part of the PSIFF on Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 7, at the Palm Springs Regal 9.
The film begins at a conference at UCLA, where Dr. Alice Howland (Moore), a Columbia University professor of linguistics, is due to give a speech. She takes the podium sounding confident and knowledgeable—until she stumbles on a word that she can’t seem to remember.
After she arrives home in New York, her husband, John (Alec Baldwin), is nowhere to be found. She later decides to take a run through the campus of Columbia University—when she discovers she doesn’t know where she is. When she’s at home cooking a holiday dinner, she struggles to remember a bread-pudding recipe.
Because of all these problems, she nervously meets with a neurologist (Stephen Kunken). Shortly after, it’s revealed to Alice and John that she has early onset Alzheimer’s disease. The news is a crushing blow to Alice, who struggles to maintain her position at Columbia. She attempts to retain her memory through the use of her iPhone; she also has bullet points typed out for her courses. However, these steps don’t necessarily work.
Alice isn’t the only one directly affected by the diagnosis: It’s explained that the disease is genetically passed on, and therefore, her children could be at risk for the disease. Her pregnant daughter, Anna (Kate Bosworth), and her son, Tom (Hunter Parrish), both get tested, while her daughter Lydia (Kristen Stewart) explains that she doesn’t care to know.
Alice later decides to pose as a woman who wants to put one of her elderly parents into a home for people with Alzheimer’s, and gets a glimpse of patients struggling with the disease.
While there have been films made about Alzheimer’s disease before, Still Alice is unique in that it’s told mostly from the perspective of the character with the disease. We see Alice struggling to maintain her composure while her husband and children watch her slip away; the audience gets a taste of what it feels like to lose one’s memory.
Moore is masterful; she’s rightfully earning Oscar buzz for her acting here. Stewart (Twilight) offers a surprisingly good performance as the outcast who fights her mother on going to college, because she’s determined to make it as an actor.
Still Alice is a compelling film that tells its story without any added drama or plot twists. The emotional hardships Alice and her family go through are real and heartbreaking enough.
The film opens in Los Angeles and New York on Friday, Jan. 16, and will later open in a wider release.