When you see Julianne Moore in a typically witless L’Oreal commercial, it’s easy to forget she’s a marvelous actor, not just a beautiful redhead idiotically gushing about the latest magical skin cream you
can pick up in your corner drugstore.
Watch Ms. Moore for one minute in her new movie, Still Alice, and you actually forget she’s a brilliant actor, not really the 50-something victim of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. From the moment Alice Howland, a renowned linguistics professor at Columbia University, starts to forget words, you feel as if you are her, as her frustration progresses to fear and then to anguish. As she struggles to stay connected to her job, and to her husband (Alec Baldwin) and three grown children, you ask yourself if you’d be as resolute to take control over your hideous illness; as practical to assess its forward march through your brain, and as gracious to everyone around you.
When I read the 2007 book, by Lisa Genova, upon which the movie is based, it made an impression that has remained with me ever since. I can still see the words describing Alice as she takes her routine jog through Cambridge (she’s a Harvard professor in the novel), and stopping suddenly because she can’t remember where to turn next. The movie isn’t quite as powerful as the book (which spent over 40 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and garnered numerous prestigious awards), at least to me, but it’s a masterpiece nonetheless. Although I didn’t see all the movies starring women who received Best Actress nominations, it’s unlikely anyone’s performance rivaled Ms. Moore’s.
“Julianne could not only project the scintillating intelligence and complexity of a linguistics professor but also the vulnerability and simplicity of the later stages,” wrote director Wash Westmoreland in a press release.
“She’d be able to master every beat of the character’s deterioration. She is quite simply one of the finest actors on the planet.”
Preparing for the role, 53-year-old Ms. Moore met Alzheimer’s patients who are close in age to the 50-year-old portrayed in the film. “[Writer Lisa Genova] made the character 50, and not 80, because that way you’re able to talk about Alzheimer’s as an actual disease, not a condition of aging,” Julianne told Closer magazine in an interview. Praising those who were generous to share their stories with her, the actor said it was “devastating” to meet these victims. She remains friends with Sandy, a patient she met who was diagnosed at 45 and “had a hell of a time coping with the disease,” Julianne said. “One of the reasons I connected with her is that she has red hair—we look very similar.”
Accepting the Golden Globe Award, earlier this week, for best actress in a drama, Ms. Moore recalled author Lisa Genova telling her, “No one wants to see a movie about a middle-aged woman.” She praised Sony Pictures Classics for deciding to “celebrate who we are, what we value and who we love.”
Still Alice opens this week across the country. Even if you only see happy movies, make an exception. Still Alice is a far cry from Meet The Fockers, and although it won’t tickle your funny bone, it will touch your heart.