After two back-to-back days of movie going last week, I got fired up to write a politically incorrect review. Something along the lines of:
The Theory of Everything, about brilliant but Lou Gehrig’s disease enfeebled Steven Hawking and his complicated marriage(s), is fairly standard, respectful bio fare but speaks to me about the nuances of living with a disabled spouse more than Still Alice’s Alzheimer’s stricken professor facing her deterioration with noble grit. Alice, like the earnest, follow-the-dots novel on which it’s based, struck me as an agenda film meant to pull heart-strings without making anyone too uncomfortable. All the chestnuts about Alzheimer’s —forgetting words, getting lost, not remembering names, faces, or recent conversations—get represented, but without much density or complexity. While Hawking came across as multi-dimensional, Alice, even in her worst moments, is always noble, essentially intelligent despite her impairment, and Julianne Moore beautiful even at her most faded. I hate the manipulation at the end when Alice’s daughter reads her a monologue and asks Alice what it means so we can hear Alice struggle to respond ‘love;’ hell, I couldn’t tell what that monologue was about. And of course I resented the spouse’s portrayal in both book and movie as a selfish jerk.
So those are the bare bones of the review I was writing in my head when I met my daughter for supper the other night. Just the two of us, a rare treat.
“I saw Alice,” she told me as soon as we were settled in with girl drinks.
“You did?” I asked genuinely surprised. I began to launch into all the things I thought were wrong with the movie. “Ugh, and that speech she gave.”
“I loved that speech.” She also loved the actress daughter who ends up moving back.
“But you wouldn’t move home to care for Dad, would you?”
“If I didn’t have a job and it was Manhattan I might,” she laughed. In fact, she and her husband are planning to move out of Atlanta in the next year, but she’s become indignant whenever I’ve raised the thorny issue of selling our farm when it becomes too much for Ralph and me. Now she added, “Really, I would love it if you and Dad moved wherever we end up. You could babysit.”
“And you could help with Dad.”
We laughed and proceeded to have our first in-depth discussion about Ralph’s condition. About whether Ralph counts as Early Onset Alzheimer’s given that my daughter noticed changes when he was barely sixty long before the MCI diagnosis; about how tense she gets around other people because she sees Ralph’s moments of self-consciousness and anxiety and how it breaks her heart; about how people who have met him in the last ten years, including her husband, don’t realize that he has changed in some essential ways; about what to expect down the road; about my frustrations; about her fear that she might inherit the Alzheimer’s gene (“but I would never have that test.”).
We were honest and respectful and loving. I left the restaurant a little elated, went home and told Ralph what a great time the girl and I had together. Also hugged him in pure exuberance. Moments of intimacy with my kids are hard-won and I will take them whenever and for whatever reason I can.
So as for Forget Alice, forget my griping in the first paragraph.
What a great movie, huh.