Saturday, January 14, 2017

Still Alice

Year 9, Day 14 - 1/14/17 - Movie #2,514

BEFORE: Alec Baldwin carries over from "Concussion", for the second in a two-part chain of films about brain damage that both star Alec Baldwin.

THE PLOT: A linguistics professor and her family find their bonds tested when she is diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease.

AFTER:  It's been a while since I've watched a film with an Oscar-winning performance by Best Actress winner, the last was probably "Mrs. Miniver" in 2016, and "Monster" with Charlize Theron the year before that.  (I'm not entirely sure, I don't exactly track this sort of thing.)  But since this is a moving, sensitive portrayal of a woman with early-onset Alzheimer's, I'm going to resist the urge to crack a bunch of jokes.  (It won't be easy.)

Alice Howland and her husband, John, are both professors at Columbia, she's in linguistics and he's in some kind of medicine, and this sort of seems designed to create the maximum amount of irony when a medical condition starts robbing her of language and cognitive functions.  They seem financially well off, with a Manhattan townhouse and a beach house in - Michigan, is it?  They've got three adult children who are at different relationship stages, but all are similarly needy (except the son, he's honestly something of a big blank) and it's similarly ironic when the one who Alice has chided the most for her life choices (acting in a buy-in theatre company) is the the daughter who thinks the least along the lines of "But how does my mother's diagnosis affect ME?"  

(The whole "my daughter is a struggling actor" sub-plot seems rife with irony, as well - hearing an actress playing a mother telling another actress playing a daughter not to be an actor, but to go to college and learn a different, more valuable set of skills is just like a giant snake eating its own tail...)

But since she's very smart and a linguistics professor, Alice's doctor is aware that she may be coming up with ways to compensate for her lack of memory, finding ways to test her own functions or using tricks to help remember things, but the end result of this is that it may be covering up for how fast the disease is really progressing.  And at times it almost seems like Alice is using her Alzheimer's as a built-in excuse for avoiding things she doesn't want to do - like dinner with her husband's colleagues.  After going out for a run without her cell phone and missing the social engagement, she only has to say, "Hey, I have Alzheimer's" and all is forgiven.  So, hey, some of us have that to look forward to, some day we can get out of doing any chore or attending any function we're not interested in.  (Great, I can't wait...)

"Honey, you were supposed to wash the dishes."  "Can't, I have Alzheimer's, remember?" "Did you call the guy about fixing the roof?"  "Alzheimer's!"  "Hey, we had tickets for the opera, where were you?" "What part of 'I have Alzheimer's' are you having trouble with?"  Alice goes to the well with this a few too many times, so sometimes I couldn't tell if she was really having a memory lapse, or just not in the mood for something.  

She's called upon to give a speech at an Alzheimer's conference, and after dropping the pages of her speech, I'm really surprised that she didn't say "Good morning, it's great to be here..." halfway through her talk.  (For that matter, I'm surprised so many people remembered to show up for the Alzheimer's conference...sorry.)  I suppose I shouldn't use humor to deal with the inevitable results of this terrible, terrible condition, because that's bad karma, and I'm getting to the age where I need to start worrying about things like this.  Like, if you start to lose cognitive function in slow degrees, are you even aware of the loss, or does the awareness mercifully disappear as well?  Alice says things like "I used to be smart..." but is that really how it works? 

My biggest problem with the film was probably the casting of Alec Baldwin, though - because he's played so many comedic roles recently, and played them well, it was tough for me to take him seriously in a more dramatic role.  And a science professor, also - I could maybe accept him as an NFL doctor last night in "Concussion", but I think once you hit big parodying Trump and are also a part-time game-show host, it's hard to be taken seriously in a somber drama.

Also starring Julianne Moore (last seen in "Assassins"), Kristen Stewart (last seen in "Zathura: A Space Adventure"), Kate Bosworth (last seen in "The Horse Whisperer"), Hunter Parrish (last seen in "It's Complicated"), Shane McRae, Stephen Kunken (last seen in "The Wolf of Wall Street"), Seth Gilliam, Erin Darke (last seen in "Love & Mercy")

RATING: 5 out of 10 family photos

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