I have been watching Julianne Moore since she was an ingenue on the now defunct soap “As The World Turns”. She played twins: the good and the bad. As a teenager, she was emotive and fun to watch. Her facial expressions held range from vengeful spite to sympathetic care. Here, as a Best Actress nominee, Moore has honed her craft. It is not easy to play a strong,intelligent woman thrown to her knees by a debilitating disease and still show triumph in all her loss. As her character Alice states, ” I am not suffering; I am struggling”.
Director and writers Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer take Lisa Genova’s book and give their cast a perfectly paced and unsentimental script of a privileged academic’s family’s heart- searing journey. The settings of Manhattan and Saugetuck allow us to see the family at work and at play.At lunch with one daughter,we see Alice in her good-humored acerbic asides as a harried water whisks away her almost finished salad. “She chirps “Thank you, I’m done and rolls her eyes at her actress daughter. We see her blaming the champagne when she is at a loss with her wordstock of language. She thrives on her work as a research linguist and lecturer and plays “Words with Friends” obsessively with her eldest daughter. We relate to her in her panic. Her body framed in long hallways and winding jogging paths mirrors her journey from blurred vision and thinking she has a brain tumor to her rare,but confirmed diagnosis of familiar Alzheimer’s.
Nothing about the script is labored. We get fast glimpses of a Dove shampoo misplaced in the kitchen pantry,erratic lectures and student complaints, botched dinner plans with department heads, yet all with a relentless verve that “this might be the last year I’m myself.” All I can say is this film begins with a toast and ends with one. A great script that will have you looking up Elizabeth Bishops’ poetry on the art of losing,as well as, smiling at yellow markers and butterflies.
Alec Baldwin surprised me in his modulated portrayal of a loving,but career -driven husband. The family’s resourcefulness is made easier by their upper middle class status, but his “whatever happens, I’m here” is a pledge kept. Kristen Stewart and Kate Bosworth were equally affective in bringing out their mother’s soul,and they were sisterly real.
Technology plays a big role in this rendering of connection and loss. The face to face computer meeting of the planning and strategizing Alice withbthe floundering and forgetful Alice is Oscar worthy. Here are Moore’s twins again: the intelligent leader and the docile follower. One of the most ironic lines is delivered by her Columbia department head. After Alice has shared her diagnosis with him,he asks “unpack that for me”. Alice’s liberated brain is unpacking everything ,already.
Shriver Productions produced this film,and many will recall that Maria Shriver’s father died of Alzheimer’s. Early onset,for Alice at age fifty, is objectively explained by her neurologist; but it is Baldwin’s tears and Moore’s hysteria and the faces of their children that move us. It is Moore’s heavily rimmed glasses, her defining of herself by her ability to articulate,and her facebook time with her other self that sets this finely tuned film apart. The toll it takes on this family with all of its resources leaves us thinking of the other one in ten who may be left adrift.
This is not a happy film,but it is filled with dignity and love, and the sense that this disease needs to be made curable. When Alice returns to the yogurt shoppe and forgets her favorite toppings,her husband takes over. Fifteen minutes later with one scoop left to savor, Alice looks at him and says “not done yet, do we have to go?” Empathetic audiences feel the same. Let me know what you think about the power of this film.