Still Alice — Disappointing Adaptation and Missed Opportunity

julianne mooreI so enjoyed reading Still Alice by Lisa Genova that I couldn’t wait to see the movie. My father died of vascular dementia so I relate to Alice and her family, their story so well captured in the book. Julianne Moore deserves her Oscar for portraying Alice, although the movie could have shined a clearer light on dealing with dementia by including more of the book. The filmmakers skimmed over or skipped parts which provide salient lessons for those who might find themselves or someone they love in that situation.

I wanted to see more of Alice’s pre-Alzheimer’s life and all she had to lose, as well as the insidious changes that revealed the disease. A lot happens to Alice between feeling lost in her surroundings and losing her teaching position that shows how it feels when it happens to you and how people around you tend to react. When you’re faced with deviations from normal it’s too easy for annoyance to overshadow compassion, denial to delay needed assistance.

Like daughter Lydia, I was the sibling who lived away, so when I’d visit, changes I witnessed in my father’s behavior were more alarming than to those living around him. People closer expect life will continue as normal and may miss gradual slides; coming from a distance baselines are more clearly drawn. In the movie Alice looks up a holiday recipe on Google, but that’s not the same as Lydia coming home for Christmas and seeing that her mother has forgotten how to carry out a treasured annual ritual.

When Alice repeatedly asks what time is her daughter’s play, the family argues about how best to respond but the movie leaves out how one daughter insists Alice be forced to “try harder” to remember rather than use her phone as a crutch. Alice can’t try harder, that’s the reality of the disease; that response, a potential misstep of well-meaning but mal-informed friends and family.

I wish the movie included the scene where Alice, having given up teaching, tries to stay connected to her colleagues and attends a department lunch. She offers an articulate, insightful observation on the speaker’s presentation which is well received until she offers the same remark a second time. The ensuing awkward silence makes you wonder: Why do we find this disease so discomfiting as to effectively shun the affected?

Feeling abandoned, book Alice searches out new colleagues, forming a support group herself since none existed for her ailment. This is what brought her to the poignant, climactic speech in the movie which expresses what I wish the movie demonstrated instead. I’m glad this movie draws attention to Alzheimer’s at a time where, as Julianne Moore points out, the disease has no treatment or cure.  It just could have done more.

See the movie, but read the book, too.