Award season may have finally come to a close for another year, but its lingering fallout will continue to live with us for a long time, not unlike a nuclear bomb test. Still Alice is the definition of an actor vehicle, existing solely for the purpose of giving its lead actress – in this instance Julianne Moore – a shot at an award. It clearly paid off for her in the end, but what does the film have that might interest the average non-Julianne Moore?
It’s rather erroneous to say at this point, but Moore is a major factor in the film’s favour. Her character’s swift deterioration from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease is not handled particularly subtly by the klaxon-esque screenplay (“look, she forgot something”), but Moore provides Alice with a relatable pathos and doesn’t overdo the misery or rely too much on the character’s fear. At the risk of being clichéd it has to be said that she carries the whole picture, or at least carries the audience along through to the inevitable conclusion.
Everything else in the film is passable or poor. Kristen Stewart has still not acquired the minimum amount of charisma required to be a real cinema actor, and, as noted above, the screenplay is predictable and obvious. Not willing to risk alienating the audience, any real conflict between Alice and her husband (Alec Baldwin) is avoided. It goes in for schmaltzy scenes of the couple buying ice cream and sitting by the beach instead. In comparison to a film like Michael Haneke’s Amour it is a Disney look at Alzheimer’s; vaguely traumatising but ultimately something that aims to be uplifting.
The direction is equally weak, not taking the opportunity to deal with its title character’s disease in an original or interesting way. We are sympathetic to Alice’s situation due to the strong performance from Moore, but we are never made to really feel what she feels; the confusion, the disorientation or the shame, something at least attempted by Christopher Nolan in his own memory-based thriller Memento. All we get from writer-directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland is a blurred background when Alice gets lost running on the campus of Colombia University where she works as a representation of her mind.
Whether one strong acting performance is enough to be of interest is for the audience to decide for themselves. But Still Alice is the ultimate application of the idea that while a great film without a great acting performance is still a great film, a great acting performance without a great film is of little interest.
In cinemas 06 March 2015. Watch the trailer here.