Reviewed by Gerti
The movie “Still Alice” is based on the book of the same name by Lisa Genova. It stars Julianne Moore as Alice Howland, a 50-year-old woman whose life is overturned by Early-Onset Alzheimer’s disease. I read the book several months ago, and therefore was very excited to see the movie version, hoping it would put into poignant pictures what Genova had so terrifyingly described in her book, but the book is much better than the film.
The movie story is pretty much the same, but I am bothered by the petty differences, because I can’t see why they were changed. For example, in the book, Alice is a Harvard professor. In the movie version, she is a professor at Columbia, and therefore lives in New York rather than Boston. My husband thinks the change was made because the New York Film commission offered the movie makers more money, or was more accommodating, but still I find the change disturbing. In the book, Alice’s husband wants to move her to New York where he is offered a better job, so it is jarring for me to see her story start there.
Another change I think occurred because the screenwriter was a man, rather than a woman. The book was devastating to read because as Alice’s condition worsens, her husband draws away from her, saying about his move from Boston where she is comfortable to New York that it wouldn’t matter to her anyway, because she “wouldn’t know the difference” by the time they moved. That was a pivotal moment in the book, because while their kids are horrified that he can even think that way, it is a factual statement. Alice’s degeneration is so rapid, that she eventually doesn’t feel comfortable in the home where she’s spent the last several decades. But the screenwriter doesn’t use that line or that entire scene, and I think its omission is a mistake. While not critical to the action, the line is key to understanding the attitude not only of Alice’s husband about her condition, but about how her family and the world at large views Alice and her disease. With her memory failing, she is reduced by them to the status of an object, not given credit for emotion or decision-making abilities, even about her own care.
The film is also less impactful than the book because the book is written in first-person narrative, and since the film does not share that point of view, it really loses out as Alice’s condition worsens. One of the most poignant things about the book is that the reader sees Alice’s ability to define and describe her world become smaller. Her vocabulary shrinks, her ability to recognize even her family members shrinks, and that is so much more evident in the book than the movie.
Those critiques aside, however, “Still Alice” is a moving portrayal in microcosm of what it is like to lose your memory and hence “yourself”. Alice states in the film that she wishes she had cancer, because the world can sympathize with a cancer patient. Having Alzheimer’s though drives people away, as it takes from her everything it meant to be Alice. The movie’s ending seemed abrupt, and several scenes are not described clearly, but the 101 minutes flew by for me. I wish the film makers had given the book’s telling of Alice’s story more weight. Great acting performance by Julianne Moore, but lacking the depth and heart of Genova’s book.