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.
“Still Alice” is a poignant and touching drama about the effects of Alzheimer’s in the life of Alice Howland (stunningly played by Julianne Moore). Moore does an incredible job capturing the progression of the disease, and yet this progression is her regression from an intelligent and articulate woman to a mere shadow of her former self by film’s end. Her character is a professor of linguistics, teaching at Columbia University in New York. She lives a normal life, happily married to her husband John (Alec Baldwin). She jogs and stays involved in her three grown children’s lives, encouraging her youngest daughter Lydia (Kristen Stewart) to go to college, although Lydia longs to be an actress and believes she doesn’t need college. However, when Alice begins struggling to remember words and names, she realizes something isn’t right and goes to see a neurologist. Unfortunately, the diagnosis is devastating.
The nuances of her struggles are well played out, including how her frustrations affect her family. There is tension to be sure. In one scene she begins to read her daughter’s diary, not realizing at first what she is doing. Her daughter has a difficult time believing this when Alice tells her something she read in the diary. Yet mother and daughter forgive one another and move on. Alice hopes to keep her memory long enough to see her daughter in a play, and to hold the grandchild her other daughter Anna (Kate Bosworth) is carrying. When she is encouraged to give a speech for other Alzheimer’s patients, she highlights the words of the speech as she gives it, making sure she doesn’t repeat what she already shared. The film features a few moments of humor. When Alice drops some of her papers while giving the speech, she jokes, “I think I’ll try to forget that just happened,” which elicits laughter from her audience.
In one touching scene she runs into the house to use the bathroom before she jogs with her husband, but she forgets where it is. When John comes to check on her, she has wet her jogging pants and has a breakdown. Alice does as many memory exercises as she can to hold on to what is quickly leaving her—life as she has known it. In addition, the plot gives a glimpse into John’s perspective as he repeats himself often and deals with the pain of losing his wife’s companionship as he once had. The film’s ultimate theme, spoken by Alice herself at the conclusion, is “love.” It is regrettable that, despite showing what a disease like this can do to a family, the film features strong language that prevents us from awarding it our Dove “Family-Approved” Seal.