Still Alice, co-directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, charts the unstoppable decline of Alice Howland (Julianne Moore), a well-regarded professor of linguistics, after she received a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's.
She vows to fight, but what defines her — career, facility with language, independence, intimate family relationships — begins to fall away. There is a supportive family: a husband (Alec Baldwin), two prickly daughters (Kate Bosworth, Kristen Stewart) — but their lives go forward, while Alice's goes backward.
The filmmakers have created an intimate portrait of the devastation wrought by dementia, and they relate it in an almost lyrical fashion: Time jumps are muted, and scenes are everyday moments turned wonky rather than grand dramatics. It's free of the manipulative tear-jerker moments we expect from disease-of-the-week films, yet no less devastating. The work has a certain genteelness, as if these well-heeled Upper West Siders would never behave badly under stress, that risks making the tragedy feel idealized.
But, Still Alice is Moore's showcase and worth seeing for that alone. (Moore has been nominated for an Academy Award for the role.) Even portraying the catatonic Alice, Moore is never less than captivating, and throughout, she keeps the "still" in Alice: fiercely strong and heartbreakingly vulnerable.