Julianne Moore, Kristen Stewart, and Kate Bosworth on “Still Alice”

Putting Alzheimer’s Disease On The Big Screen

Jan 20, 2015 Web Exclusive
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Still Alice centers on a renowned language professor who—only days after her 50th birthday—is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. It tracks her life as she comes to terms with her inevitable decline, breaks the news to her loving family, and her memory and cognitive capacities rapidly disintegrate.

Author Lisa Genova’s 2007 novel struck close to home for filmmaking partners Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. In 2011, Glatzer was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a disorder not unlike Alzheimer’s. (While Alzheimer’s breaks down mental capabilities, ALS destroys those of the body.) The pair continued working and making films together, even after Glatzer lost his ability to speak. This firsthand experience can be strongly felt in Still Alice, particularly as its central character slowly loses her communicative abilities.

“[Richard and Wash] got why the book was special,” says novelist Lisa Genova. “It wasn’t about what the caregivers are going through. While that point of view is important, we know a lot about that. What is so baffling, and heartbreaking, and difficult to understand is, what is the point of view of someone with Alzheimer’s as they descend further and further into dementia?”

Julianne Moore was the filmmakers’ first choice to play Alice, and the right one. Moore has already won the Golden Globe for her performance here as a woman painfully aware of her own mental deterioration, and is the favorite to win Best Actress at this year’s Academy Awards. She was attracted to the project by the way it chronicled Alice’s struggles from a first-person perspective.

“What [Lisa] did that was so remarkable was that she presented the disease completely subjectively,” says Moore, who recently won the Golden Globe for her lead performance as Alice. “What does it feel like to go through this process? We never get to see that.”

With Moore on board, Glatzer and Westmoreland could begin casting Alice’s close-knit family. Alec Baldwin signed on to play her husband, and Weeds’ Hunter Parrish was approached to play her son. Actress Kate Bosworth—who plays Alice’s eldest daughter—was eager to get involved, having already been a fan of Lisa Genova’s book.

“I have grandparents who have Alzheimer’s, and we rally as a family to take care of them, and so it touched me deeply,” says Bosworth. “I felt like this was an opportunity to shine a light on this disease in a way that hasn’t been done cinematically before. That was a real draw for me.”

Alice’s youngest daughter—the rebellious, closed-off Lydia—is played by Kristen Stewart. This somber turn was sandwiched between two similarly dramatic roles for the young actress, in Camp X-Ray and Clouds of Sils Maria.

“It’s not a walk in the park, but sometimes with films – it sounds silly, but [they] can be very important,” says Stewart. “It’s not always about having fun, or making people laugh, or going to the movies to have a great time. They can really say something, and I think this movie does.”

In preparation for her role, Julianne Moore spent time visiting Alzheimer’s care centers and speaking with people battling various stages of the disease. The actress credits much of her performance to those living with the disease who were willing to share their experiences with her. 

“People with Alzheimer’s don’t feel seen,” says Moore. “I think a lot of the time it’s [because] we look the other way. It’s hard to look at, and they feel like there’s some kind of a shame attached to cognitive decline.”

Everyone involved with Still Alice seems to hope for the same outcome for the film: to shed some additional light on a disease that—despite affecting more than five million Americans—still feels overlooked.

“If it’s done right, it’s going to be something and everyone’s going to talk about it,” says Kristen Stewart of her own decision to join the film. “If it’s done right, it’s going to be more important than anything we’ve done in a long time.”

***

Still Alice is now playing in select cities. For more information about the film, check out its website.

To read our review, click here



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