Alice Howland, happily married with three grown children, is a renowned linguistics professor who starts to forget words. When she receives a devastating diagnosis, Alice and her family find their bonds tested.
Alzheimer’s has got to be one of the most debilitating diseases known to man. There’s a line in the movie when Alice (Julianne Moore), in the early stages of her condition, exclaims to her husband John (Alec Baldwin), “I wish I had cancer.” I wouldn’t wish cancer on anybody yet you understand where she is coming from. As a professor in the medical field, she is very well aware of the condition and once it’s been diagnosed, the regression that follows shortly thereafter. In the beginning, it’s small things that happen to all of us on a daily basis; forgetting a word, misplacing your phone, etc.
But as the disease advances, her symptoms become worse and she begins to encounter problems with language, disorientation, mood swings and behavioral issues. All the time, her family must deal with the effects of the ailment not just on Alice but on themselves too. Alice and John find out from her neurologist that the disease is genetic and that more than likely, her three children, Anna (Kate Bosworth), Tom (Hunter Parrish) and Lydia (Kristen Stewart), will inherit it as will any of their children and the effects go way beyond the here and now and the consequences will last generations.
The film could have easily evolved into a saccharin-filled, melodramatic TV movie of the week but thankfully, directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland utilize their talented cast to fill every shot of the movie and concentrate instead on telling a straightforward story that has a beginning, a middle and an end instead of stretching the movie out with unnecessary overly dramatic scenes or an exaggerated finale with Alice saying goodbye to her whole family in a moment of clarity. I’ve never been a big fan of Alec Baldwin or Kristen Stewart but here, they are exemplary and that’s partly due to the fact that they have supporting roles. Less, it would seem, is most certainly more.
Kristen Stewart was the one actor in the “Twilight” saga that just seemed to be incapable of emoting. She was constantly stoic, with absolutely no emotive expressions whatsoever and I could never figure out how she got cast in the first place. Alec Baldwin is known more for hurling obscenities at cast and crew members and his explosive personality than his acting but I realized with this movie, that both he and Ms. Stewart are more than capable of actually performing and this is due, in part, to the talented cast that surrounded them and the directors on the movie.
There is nothing wrong with some friendly competition and when you have a cast as assured as the one on display here, it makes you want to climb right up there so you can be on their level. But make no mistake, this is Julianne Moore’s movie. She owns every single scene throughout and come Oscar time, I would be very surprised if she wasn’t holding a statuette by night’s end. The movie is heartbreaking and as Alice begins her rapid decline, you hope, even though reality won’t allow it, that there will be some magical circumstance where a cure will be found just in time to save her but of course, that doesn’t happen.
Julianne Moore gives an absolutely amazing performance as a strong and accomplished woman, a professor in the study of linguistics and when she can’t even put a simple word together, your heart breaks. Ms. Moore has given some excellent performances throughout her career, most notably in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights,” “The Hours” and her upcoming “Maps to the Stars” but here, she never ‘performs,’ she never exclaims “I am an actor, hear me roar!” Rather, it is in the quiet moments when she is alone, that she truly shines.
While out jogging, she forgets where she is and instead of panicking and freaking out, she catches her breath until her memory comes back and then makes her way back home, no big furor but for a moment, we can see the panic in her eyes and there are not many actors who can express emotions as naturally and easily as that. Highly recommended.
In theaters January 16th
For more info about James visit his website at www.irishfilmcritic.com