Magazine article The Spectator

Cinema: Still Alice

Magazine article The Spectator

Cinema: Still Alice

Article excerpt

Still Alice

12A, Nationwide

There's always seemed something masklike about Julianne Moore's face: she seems walled in by her beauty. When she smiles, the only thing that moves is her mouth; that superb fenderwork of bone remains as impassive as a sphinx. This very inexpressiveness gives her an air of trapped intelligence, which she used to great effect in the early part of her career playing a string of numbed-out beauties-- her coked-up porn actress in Boogie Nights ; her neurasthenic housewives in Safe and Far from Heaven , all dying behind the eyes. More recently, she has cut loose to channel something of Diane Keaton's scatterbrained comedy in The Kids Are All Right , in which her performance was a revelation: Moore has never been so loose or so funny. In Still Alice , she plays a victim of early-onset Alzheimer's and you can see why they gave her an Oscar for it. It's like watching a career retrospective only in reverse: come see the more radiant, vivacious Julianne Moore regress into one of her early pathos-of-emptiness roles. It's one of the reasons the movie is boring: we're watching an actor go backwards.

Moore plays Alice Howland, a 50-year-old linguistics lecturer at Columbia, author of From Neuron to Nouns , mother of three beautiful children -- Anna (Kate Bosworth), Tom (Hunter Parrish) and Lydia (Kristen Stewart) -- whose bejewelled Upper West Side existence indicates nothing of, nor will offer the slightest defence against, the Sophoclean cruelty of what is about to befall her. The film is at its best in these early scenes, as Alice stumbles over the odd word or name, and Moore registers little flurries of panic. Submitting to a series of questions designed to test her memory -- the scene is shot in one take, with no cutaways from Moore's face -- you feel this woman's satisfaction upon getting the questions right, and her existential distress when she doesn't. Moore's performance internalises the battle: an attack on her intelligence is an assault on her identity.

Oscar winning role: Julianne Moore in Still Alice

And therein lies both the strength and weakness of Still Alice , a character study in which the film's sole character -- the only one given any real depth-- is pretty much dissipated by the end. The film doesn't so much progress as fade away, leaving only the memory of its central performance intact. …

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