One of the unfortunate consequences of Australia’s long-delayed exposure to Oscar contenders is that the critical narrative around these films has coalesced long before they screen here. So it is with Still Alice, which the majority of critics have described as some variation of overly sentimental Alzheimer’s weepy that will win Julianne Moore the Oscar.
That consensus is simplistic but accurate. Julianne Moore is fantastic, as expected, depicting the titular Alice’s descent into early-onset Alzheimer’s. The problem with telling an Alzheimer’s tale is that it is inherently distancing, no matter how much time we spend with our subject. So much of our identity is wrapped up in memory that it threatens to turn into a conventional terminal disease narrative despite the title’s overt optimism. Still Alice doesn’t overcome that distance, and its regular use of soft lighting and melancholy piano melodies reduces much of the film to raw sentimentality.
The film’s best moments – such as how Alice uses her illness to manipulate her daughter Lydia (Kristen Stewart, excellent), or how her husband, John (Alec Baldwin), steamrolls Alice’s own desires – demonstrate a compelling complexity. Unfortunately, this approach is relegated to the margins of a straightforward story that reinforces said critical consensus.