Still Alice, film review: This adaptation would seem average without Julianne Moore

(12A) Dir. Richard Glatzer + Wash Westmoreland; Starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, 101mins
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The Independent Culture

Try to name another actor who has made as many adventurous choices or given as many nuanced and fine-grained performances as Julianne Moore over the past 20 years, and you'll probably draw a blank.

As it happens, the role for which she won an overdue best actress Oscar last month is that of Alice Howland, a linguistics professor who catches herself drawing a blank when reaching for familiar words and ideas, and is then diagnosed, shortly after her 50th birthday, with early-onset Alzheimer's disease.

Adapted from a novel by the neuroscientist Lisa Genova, Still Alice seems thoroughly researched and sensitive. But without Moore in the title role, it would probably also seem underwritten and average.

The quiet, irrevocable slipping away of Alice's personality, such that the ambitious and vivacious woman whom we meet in the opening scenes is hollowed out and helpless by the end, is expertly modulated by Moore, and sad to watch.

But much of the film's dramatic tension is clumsily manufactured. The script is good at noticing Alice's coping strategies, and at the kinds of things that people say when they don't want to talk about Alice's illness.

But Alec Baldwin isn't wholly convincing as Alice's medical professor husband, and her two eldest children (played by Kate Bosworth and Hunter Parrish) are placeholder characters.

Only the spiky youngest daughter, played by Kristen Stewart, feels like she has an inner life, and as if she gets what it would be like if that inner life were to begin to shut down.