A lot of you know a huge part of the reason I found the movie Still Alice so affecting is because it's the disease that took my mother. In fact I don't know that I'm able to look at the film in any way, shape or form that's not tinged by that dreadful fact. It's just not something I can be dispassionate about.
That being said, Julianne Moore is being recognized for her brilliant and nuanced performance as the college linguistics professor who gets Early Onset Alzheimer's. Presumably not all these people giving Moore a shout-out for her performance have parents who died from the disease — although I'd bet they all know someone who knows someone who did or will. Anyway, Moore is the front runner for this year's Best Actress Oscar statuette with recognition being given to her by various critics’ groups: Chicago, San Francisco, Washington DC and the National Board of Review. She's also got a Golden Globe nomination (actually, she has two GG noms as the foreign press org has also nominated her for Maps to the Stars in the comedy category) and a Screen Actors Guild Awards nomination. The Golden Globes are just around the corner with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler back in the hosting saddle on January 11th. The SAG awards are on the 25th.
Those that follow these things — I mean really follow these things, in the "this is my job" sense — are calling this a weak year for strong women's parts with Moore’s biggest competition being Reese Witherspoon for Wild, Felicity Jones for The Theory Of Everything, Rosamund Pike for Gone Girl and Jennifer Aniston for Cake. Still haven't managed to see Wild or Cake yet, Pike and Jones were outstanding, that's for sure.
Outside of its Academy qualifying run in December, Still Alice opens on January 16th in NY and LA, and then expands 'wide'. It's the first movie in my list of Books to Read Before You See the Movie/2015 and I hope you'll make an effort to see it, for so many reasons. Here are my top five:
First, it's a powerful, emotionally-charged film — it's not just me.
Second, we need more films where women, strong, powerful, wonderful women, are the leads. Otherwise we go to the movies watching only mens' stories — The Theory of Everything, The Imitation Game, Unbroken, Whiplash, Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Fury, Interstellar are all marvelous movies, but they're all marvelous movies that focus on men. And that doesn't even begin to factor in all those other mostly male-dominated super-hero flicks! Unless you want to go to the movies — or stay home and stream —one SpiderMan, X-Man, Super Man movie after another, we've got to support grown up films with big, meaty parts for the ladies. Movies where they do more than show off their lady parts.
Third, Alzheimer's is an awful, awful mind-robbing disease and needs all the attention it can get since increased attention generally leads to increased funding.
Fourth, ladies, you're the ones getting Alzheimer's. Oh sure, men get it too but in nowhere near the numbers that women do. According to this latest Alzheimer's study from the Alzheimer's Association two thirds of Alzheimer's patents are women. Two thirds! And who is taking care of the Alzheimer's patients? Did you guess women? Yep, you got that right! So, PLEASE support the movie. See it, share it, remember it.
And fifth—on a lighter note and because my Kristen Stewart fans will have a fit if I don't mention it — Kristen Stewart IS really good as Alice's daughter in this. In fact having seen her in the also excellent Clouds of Sils Maria, Kristen Stewart IS a really good actress. Let's get over the Twilight junk, and the personal issues, and put her in the same category with other young women being recognized for their true abilities, i.e., Jennifer Lawrence, Shailene Woodley, Emma Stone, and Emma Watson.
Phew! Thanks, I needed that!
Okay, so over at IndieWire I found a new interview with Julianne Moore on playing Dr. Alice Howland in Still Alice, based on the book by Lisa Genova. The interviewer is Matt Mueller. Thought I'd share it with you here:
How did exploring early onset Alzheimer’s affect you? Did you find your research for the role disturbing?
Julianne Moore: No. This is something I didn’t have a lot of information about so it was fascinating to explore, to talk to the women that I met, the clinicians and researchers and the people at the Alzheimer’s Association. It’s a big issue and it’s obviously increasing as people are living longer.
Was it difficult keeping track of Alice’s deterioration from scene to scene?
It was hard because Wash and Rich couldn’t shoot in sequence, although they did the best they could. So everything in the family’s house had to be shot in the middle of the shoot. I played the end of the movie when we were halfway through the film. Trying to keep track of exactly where she was was also difficult because of the subtlety in the decline. They’re really small things that distinguish each stage.
What are some examples?
Her clothes start to change. The colors change. She doesn’t seem to be selecting things the same way. She wants something because it’s soft, not because it looks good. The lack of control of body functions, all the different things that happen: when do they happen? When does the language go? How do you demonstrate that a decline has started without going overboard? I tried to be as accurate and precise as possible with the changes.
Did you take any of the tests for Alzheimer’s disease that Alice takes?
I took them all. They’re way harder than we depict in the movie because we don’t have time for that. They start by reading you a long story with many details in it and then you go onto another test where they give you a list of 30 words. They say, “Repeat those words” so you repeat them. Then they say, “Now repeat them again.” So you repeat them again, or what you can remember. Then they give you another list of 30 words and say, “Now repeat the first list.” Each of the tests targets a different part of the brain so they can see, if there has been a decline, where the decline has been.
(my note: my mother was never given a test like that but it was pretty evident when she failed the simple 3 item memory test something was wrong, very wrong.)
How did you do?
The doctor didn’t tell me anything! I was like, Am I okay? Did I pass? She was being so generous with her time, I didn’t want to keep bothering her. In a later email, she said, “I wanted to let you know your results were normal.” All the women I spoke with who had early onset Alzheimer’s told me how scary it was to take that test.
There’s a line in the film where Alice says, “I wish I had cancer,” which was shocking to hear. Was there a discussion about that line?
It’s in Lisa Genova’s book, and it’s not uncommon for people with early onset to feel very ashamed. A lot of the people I spoke to talked about losing friendships, losing support... Somebody they thought was their best friend never showing up again, somebody they thought was a casual friend being there for them every day. You never know how people are going to react. It used to be like that with cancer but these days, if you have cancer, everybody’s right there and people march and wear pink ribbons. But people still have a sense of shame about Alzheimer’s. I know a lot of people who have family members with Alzheimer’s disease but they didn’t tell me before they knew I was doing this movie.
How was it working with Richard and Wash, given the fact that Richard can no longer speak due to his own deteriorating health as a result of ALS?
In light of what we were doing on the movie, you think it’s going to be challenging at first and it ends up not being that challenging. Richard had his iPad and he was able to use that and sometimes you’d understand what he was saying before he was finished typing so you could kind of have a conversation. He was pretty eloquent with how he wrote and how he communicated emotionally. It forced us to think about what’s real because Richard and Wash are experiencing another form of what’s happening in this movie.
Doesn’t your son Cal appear in the film?
Yes, in that scene where Kristen [Stewart] and I are sitting on a park bench and there’s a group of kids singing in the background. That’s my son and his girlfriend. They really bailed me out, Cal and Charlotte, because I wanted to have music at the end but we couldn’t afford to buy anything. So Richard and Wash found this old song from the ’60s, a Russian folk song which was public domain. Cal and Charlie worked on an arrangement and wrote new lyrics and you get to hear them in the film, although I was hoping there would be a bigger shot of them!
Spoken like a true mother!