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Women on the Edge: STILL ALICE and CAKE

Monday, January 26, 2015

 

Dual Film Reviews on "Still Alice' and "Cake"

By Tinsel & Tine Editor, Le Anne Lindsay

I saw these two films Julianne Moore in Still Alice and Jennifer Aniston in Cake within days of each other and couldn't help but be struck by the similarities. Both women are dealing with harsh realities not of their own making.  Both women are in good income brackets, yet that fact only alleviates their situations in minor ways. And both women are mothers who can't protect their children from a terrible fate.

In STILL ALICE, Alice Howland (Moore) is a 50 year-old professor of linguistics. She's esteemed in her field, has written books and is asked to guest lecture all over the country.  She has a loving husband, John, also a professor (Alec Baldwin) and 3 adult children who are in good places in their lives - eldest daughter, Anna (Kate Bosworth) is ready to start a family, their son Tom (Hunter Parrish) is in med school, and youngest Lydia (Kristen Stewart) is in LA with dreams of becoming an actress. Alice and John raised their family in a nice, above average, but homey house. For instance, instead of a toothbrush holder, they use a tall coffee mug in the bathroom. The family also has a house at the beach.  It all seems like the time in life when you can finally coast and enjoy the ride...  But for Alice that ride is a road to early onset Alzheimer's.

Moore's Interview on NPR: 'Alzheimer's Makes Us Question 'Our Essential Selves'

As it turns out this particular form of Alzheimer's is hereditary, for Alice it was passed down through her father, whom she wasn't close to and who died early, so she never knew. But the doctors warn there's every chance she has passed this early Alzheimer's gene on to her children.  It's also an aggressive form of the brain disease - Alice goes from forgetting a word here or there, to getting lost jogging, to being lost most of the time in her mind, very quickly.  After being diagnosed, she's often seen with her cellphone testing her memory with questions and playing "Words with Friends" with Anna - next thing you know, her cellphone is found in an odd place, and she says to John and Anna "I've been looking for that". John says quietly to Anna, "She lost that over a month ago". Speaking of which, the role of the husband in this situation is a tough one; but I think the writers and Alec Baldwin found a good balance between being loving, protective and supportive and wanting to bury himself in work so as not to have to deal with the loss of his wife in this debilitating way. It was nice to see Baldwin in a sincere role for a change, he so often plays guys with an agenda or ulterior motive.


Still Alice (based on a novel by Lisa Genova) directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland is frightening in its honesty. And really made me wonder, could I be experiencing early onset Alzheimer's? For the last 2 years I've been worried about my memory, particularly since words come to me while I'm writing, but I can't find them when I'm speaking. I've always been someone who never learned how to file information into my long term memory, that's just empty, unused space in my brain. But lately my short term memory has become more and more temporary. Or maybe I'm just a hypochondriac too taken in by Julianne Moore's heartbreaking performance. Watching her character's descent from a woman of accomplishment to a woman who can't find the bathroom is almost too much to bear. You're watching a family loose the best part of itself, slowly but surely and the helplessness was palpable... and yet, the movie manages to soften the edges and finds warmth, which is not easy considering the circumstances. 

T &T's LAMB Score: 4.5 outta 5



CAKE based on a short story by Patrick Tobin and directed by Daniel Barnz is a fantastic role for Jennifer Aniston. What I loved about her on "Friends" (still love in reruns) is her natural instincts when it comes to the timing of a line and her facial expressions. But in most of her movies, I always feel like she studied herself too much and tries to create a form of Rachel in every character.  In Cake her natural instincts are present, but not Rachel.  Her character Claire Bennett is a lawyer with a sharp edge and caustic manner and you can tell these traits would have been a part of her to some degree before the accident, however chronic pain, drugs and grief have left her with little else.

What I like most about the movie, other than the two scenes with actual cake, is the way in which the circumstances leading up to Claire's current predicament are revealed in clues. Not through flashbacks or exposition or voice-overs.  She's got scars on her face and legs, her physical pain is such that she walks around like a mummy trying to balance books on its head, every step is made gingerly.  You assume it's from a car accident, but it's a long time before those words are uttered.  She gives her gardener/lover a box of toys for his kids. And there's a large empty space on the living room wall where a picture or painting is missing, you start to put together the fact that she must have lost a child in the accident.

Aniston New York Times Interview

You also don't know exactly how long ago the accident took place. Claire's routine of painkillers and alcohol seems to be a way of life; not someone getting addicted, but already addicted. Her scars are present, but fading. Her physical therapist is frustrated with her lack of progress. Her husband (Chris Messina) hasn't gotten all his stuff out of the house yet; but it's hard to tell how long he tried to hang in there with her before realizing he wasn't going to be able to save her.  And Claire's loyal and long suffering housekeeper Silvana (Adriana Barraza) is also nearing the end of her patience with Claire's self-destructive behavior.  At one point a stranger (William H. Macy) comes to the house to apologize, he says he wanted to say something at the trial etc..etc..  Claire rages at him, the only time we see her move with any alacrity.  You figure it takes some time for a trial in a case like this to come to a settlement. And how long had he been working up the nerve to come and apologize? So was the accident a year ago? two years?  It matters not, but I like trying to piece it together.

I've heard that some critics don't care for the character of Nina (Anna Kendrick). Now and again Claire's Oxycontin haze brings up the ghost of Nina, a woman who recently committed suicide and was a member of the chronic pain support group Claire used to attend, until they kicked her out for having a bad attitude.  Claire finds herself fixated on Nina because she did what Claire wants to do, just throw it all away and let go of the pain once and for all.  And who can blame her.  In fact, suicide is another theme both movies - Still Alice and Cake have in common.


In terms of the narrative of Cake, the "ghost of Nina" may not be necessary, however, I liked their somewhat antagonistic exchanges filled with sarcastic honesty. Claire also develops a strange relationship with Nina's widowed husband, Roy (Sam Worthington). Roy is so broken by his wife abandoning both he and their son, that he actually welcomes Claire's uncommon interruption into their lives.

I've seen the performances of all the 2015 Oscar nominated actresses except for Marion Cotillard in Two Days and Two nights and I gotta say, I feel perhaps Jennifer Aniston should have been nominated over Felicity Jones or Rosamund Pike, both of which were amazing, but neither of those roles required physicality or much research.

Kudos to Julianne Moore on her SAG Award win! 

T &T's LAMB Score: 4 outta 5





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is about discovering what I find pleasing in screening & eating - in case you missed it, the name is a play on Tinseltown using the Tines of a Fork.

Feel free to send me info on a film or new restaurant you'd like me to highlight.
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Will there ever be a cap on movie prices?

Will we one day pay $20 a pop?

Why don't we pay on a scale?

A crap movie like everything Adam Sandler has ever done should cost about $4.50.
Big action movies like"Lord of the Rings", "Iron Man," "Transformers" are worth $10.
Woody Allen movie or something like "Silver Linings Playbook" $6-$7.
A chick flick or light comedy $5.75 and most Indie Films $5.25.

You could even do it by seasons - all summer block busters from May to August - $10
Sept - November 15th $3.50 - $4
Back to $10 for Thanksgiving and Christmas etc...

Or you can do it by A Actors ($9 - $10), B Actors ($6 - $7) TV actors on the big screen ($3.50 - $4)

Surely I'm not the first person to realize this makes sense. Has it been voted on in the Motion Picture Industry and then vetoed? If so, why?
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