Another round of strong reviews should keep momentum going for "Still Alice" star Julianne Moore, who has emerged as an Oscar front-runner for her lead performance in Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland's drama about a brilliant college professor grappling with early-onset Alzheimer's.
But while Moore and co-star Kristen Stewart (playing Moore's daughter) are being hailed for some of the finest work of their careers, many movie critics feel the rest of the film doesn't match those heights.
The Times' Kenneth Turan writes, "Losing your mind is a terrible thing to watch, but the splendid acting in 'Still Alice' makes it worth the pain. Scarier than any Elm Street nightmare, a horror film for the rest of us, it succeeds despite itself not because of one strong performance but two." Moore's work "deserves all the plaudits it's going to get," but the film also "wouldn't be nearly as emotionally effective as it is" without Stewart.
"Still Alice" isn't perfect, Turan says: "Elements of its plot have the standard quality of a Hallmark production, and the work of some of the film's co-stars is a bit too on the nose. But, with Moore and Stewart on the case, we feel the presence of something real here, something that can't be shrugged off or ignored."
The New York Times' A.O. Scott agrees that "'Still Alice' is a movie that addresses a nightmarish circumstance with calm, compassionate sensitivity," while Moore delivers an "exquisitely nuanced performance." That said, "the film as a whole functions mainly as a scaffolding for this remarkable feat of acting, and also for Kristen Stewart's excellent work."
The problem, Scott says, "is that the film, concentrating on the accurate portrayal of Alice's condition, leaves the other characters undeveloped, and their social and domestic milieu hastily sketched. … The story is sad and sincerely told, but it is too removed from life to carry the full measure of pain that Alice deserves."
RogerEbert.com's Christy Lemire says, "With a combination of power and grace, Julianne Moore elevates 'Still Alice' above its made-for-cable-television trappings, and delivers one of the more memorable performances of her career."
Walsh and Glazer "don't shy away from the steady and terrifying way the disease can take hold of a person and strip away her ability to communicate and connect with the outside world. But they also don't tell this story with much nuance or artistry. … The flat lighting, the frequent use of maudlin music, a heavy reliance on medium shots and some awkward cutaways for reactions all contribute to the sensation of watching a rather workmanlike production better suited to the small screen. But the film's heart is in the right place."
The [Newark] Star-Ledger's Stephen Witty writes, "Moore has been a fine actress for a long time and 'Still Alice' gives her a remarkable role, and the space to truly live it. It softens things at times — she only becomes truly angry once, and mostly sinks into a vague, smiling fog — but nothing she does feels fake, or forced."
He continues: "It is a terrific performance, and nothing distracts from it. Not the subdued supporting cast …. Not the camerawork, either, which only occasionally uses an obvious trick or two — like a shallow depth of field which turns Alice, or her surroundings, into a blur — to make its points."
USA Today's Claudia Puig also calls Moore's performance "one of the best of her career. That's saying something given her array of impressive roles." Stewart's performance is "one of her best" as well.
Less successfully, Puig says, "Some plot points feel contrived, and a few supporting parts, particularly her older daughter Anna (Kate Bosworth), don't ring as true as Moore's." But in the end, "Still Alice" is "understated yet still moving."