No film critic wants to be seen as insensitive or unsympathetic to characters suffering from a disease, especially well-off victims with a restrained and dignified air. And so Still Alice (Sony Pictures Classics, opening today in N.Y. and L.A.), a drama about a brilliant college professor (Julianne Moore) suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, is getting a 71% pass on Metacritic and an 86% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But a few bold fellows have stepped up and called Alice a Lifetime movie — a mediocrity — ennobled by Moore’s touching performance.
We all know this won’t get in the way of Moore’s Best Actress Oscar. She’s due and all that. Plus she doesn’t have a heavy competitor to really worry about. But the reality can’t be waved away. Still Alice is a drag, man. It’s tedious and painful to sit through, and I don’t mean “painful” in an empathizing sense. I mean “oh, shit, I’m stuck here in this seat and I can’t get out until this movie comes to an end.”
But the right guys are standing up and calling a spade a spade, and right now you could almost use the metaphor of a small snowball starting to roll down a steep, snow-covered slope.
In the view of Slant‘s often-contrarian Ed Gonzalez, the well-acted scenes between Moore and Kristen Stewart, playing her daughter, create “the kind of artful consideration of familial friction acerbated by disease…that nearly saves Still Alice from the banality of its Lifetime-movie execution.”
L.A. Times critic Kenneth Turan has written that “if it wasn’t for Stewart, Still Alice wouldn’t be nearly as emotionally effective as it is,” partly due to the fact that “elements of its plot have the standard quality of a Hallmark production.”
N.Y. Times critic A.O. Scott says that Alice “feels like a too tidy garden that has been planted for the sole purpose of introducing a blight and observing its ravages.”
Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir says he’s “not a big fan of the film-critic dodge where you say that some actor delivers a tremendous performance in a bad or mediocre movie. And [yet] here I am, face to face with Still Alice, also known as the WASP Family Christmas Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Special, dealing with that precise contradiction.”
So there you have it, and that’s probably where it stays. I believe along with everyone else that this is the year for Moore’s big triumph. She’s earned it and deserves it. But let no critic worth his or her salt stand up and call Still Alice a striking, world-class knockout.