A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Still Alice tracks the frighteningly fast progression of early-onset Alzheimer's disease in Alice (an excellent Julianne Moore), a Columbia University professor. This deeply affecting film doesn't shy away from its depiction of a tragic and unrelenting condition; Alice is seen unraveling, a prospect that could be very upsetting for younger/more sensitive viewers. She has mood swings, is increasingly unable to take care of herself, becomes incontinent, and has difficulty communicating. There's also some swearing (including very sparing use of "s--t" and "f--k"), social drinking (wine at dinner, etc.), a reference to oral sex, and a despondent moment of utter despair.
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What's the story?
An accomplished linguistics professor at Columbia University, Alice (Julianne Moore) lives in a brainy world full of words and neural nimbleness. Her husband, John (Alec Baldwin), is a successful researcher and professor, too, and her children are hyper-verbal overachievers -- except for her youngest, Lydia (Kristen Stewart), a young actress who relies on her gut as much, if not more, than her head. Alice is at the top of her game. But then, during a presentation -- one of hundreds she's given in her life -- she discovers that the words are escaping her. She recovers but soon ends up losing her way while taking a run around a campus that's all too familiar. She's also forgetting people, misremembering dates, and losing track of her lectures. When she discovers she has early-onset Alzheimer's, Alice finds herself at a crossroad: Who is she now, and how will she keep hold of herself and her life?
Is it any good?
With utmost grace and deep empathy, Moore delivers another sensitively sketched performance -- this time of a woman on the verge of losing her memories and, in a way, her life. On this front alone, STILL ALICE is a beautiful tragedy to behold, Moore's face and body the canvas for a haunting and oh-so-human tale. To watch Alice lose her grip on the life she has known is to experience her pain and suffering and confusion. With Moore as our proxy, raw and open, we're with Alice on her perilous journey.
That said, the rest of the movie approaches the topic at somewhat of a remove. It lives in its head, not its heart. It's possible this is purposeful: Alice and her family, especially John, appear to rely on their brilliant minds more than their emotions. Still, the rest of the characters and their ensuing struggle with the diagnosis seem muted to the point of distraction. When Alice's mind and body fail her, you expect them to crumble, too. Or at least undergo a revolution themselves, quiet as it may be. It's a missed opportunity. Better to lock your gaze onto Moore, who carries the film impressively.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the appeal of sad movies like Still Alice. Why do we like to watch movies about tragedy and hardship? What can we take away from these emotional experiences?
How does Still Alice shed light on Alzheimer's disease? What does the diagnosis mean for Alice and her family?
How do Alice's family members react to her news? How does this affect her, and vice-versa? Do you think the movie authentically depicts a family in crisis?
- In theaters: December 5, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: May 12, 2015
- Cast: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth
- Director: Wash Westmoreland
- Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 101 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: mature thematic material, and brief language including a sexual reference
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award, Golden Globe
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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