So far, Julianne Moore's role as Alice Howland, the professor and mother of three who gets the fatal diagnosis that she has early onset Alzheimer's disease in Still Alice, has earned her a Golden Globe, a Critics' Choice Movie Award win, as well as a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination and her fifth-ever Academy Award nod. We have no doubt she'll sweep this entire award season (and look amazing doing it, of course). She was just that good.
I was one of the first to see the film when it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last September. At that time, the cast—including Moore herself—introduced the movie to audiences for the first time. Director Wash Westmoreland told the packed crowd that he had just finished the film two weeks ago. His partner and co-director Richard Glatzer, could not be there, he told us. Glatzer has ALS.
I had only gotten a ticket because I told Kate Bosworth that I had obsessed over Lisa Genova’s New York Times bestselling book of the same name and volunteered for the Alzheimer’s Association of New York City’s Junior Committee for seven years when I interviewed the star earlier that day. Bosworth begged me to see the movie adaptation, and her publicist handed me a ticket. I couldn’t say no.
I get emotional just thinking about what it was like to experience the movie. As someone who has seen the disease first-hand, I have never seen Alzheimer’s disease so accurately portrayed; both in the way that Moore had brought the disease to the screen and in her family’s reactions.
Everything is there: The thoughts of suicide, the forgetfulness of everything from where bathrooms are located to her children’s names, and the sadness that hits when your family realizes their loved one’s memory is slipping away. What hit home most was that it showed that it’s a divisive disease: Her husband, played by Alec Baldwin, and her children, played by Kristen Stewart, Bosworth, and Hunter Parrish, all had different reactions to Alice’s diagnosis, which is very true in real life.I say this because just under two weeks ago, I lost my grandmother to complications of Alzheimer’s disease after she had lived with it for eight years. In 2008, my great aunt passed away from it, too. I’ve seen my own family struggle with the effects of Alzheimer’s, and I’m not the only one: 5 million Americans have the disease. This statistic doesn’t even count their caregivers.
Moore surprised me at this premiere during the post-screening question and answer session. When she was answering the questions, she seemed more like an advocate for Alzheimer’s awareness than an actress. It was spectacular to watch. "Alzheimer's is not a sign of aging and people think it's part if aging,” she told us. “It's not. It's a disease." To research the part, she visited many patients who had early onset Alzheimer’s. "I spoke to women who has just been diagnosed, and was bowled over by the generosity of everyone I spoke to,” she said. “If I didn't witness it, I didn't want to perform it. In terms of what was hardest—all of it. I wanted to get it right.”
Sure, you'll probably shed some tears—wear waterproof mascara and bring some Kleenex because you’ll need it—but there was a real sense of camaraderie in the theater. Everyone knows someone or knows someone who knows someone who has gone through something similar. When I had spoken to Bosworth, she had told me that her grandparents have dementia. “It’s different than Alzheimer’s but similar in the challenge that they are losing themselves,” Bosworth said.
While the theme itself may sound like a real buzzkill, it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s a movie that touches you in a way you don’t expect. In one of the most emotional scenes, Moore gives a speech at the Alzheimer's Association headquarters and says: "I am not suffering. I'm struggling. Struggling to be a part of things. To stay connected to who I once was. So 'Live in the moment,' I tell myself. It's all I really can do. Live in the moment." If nothing else, this film serves as a reminder to do just that.
Still Alice is in theaters today, Friday, January 16. Watch a trailer for the film below.