Emily and Marco are two talented, bipolar poets whose creativity is fuelled by their emotional extremes. When they meet in a treatment facility, they become embroiled in a romance that mixes art and passion and brings them together as two misunderstood outsiders against the world.
But their instant and intense chemistry only serves to drive their mania to new heights, as they pursue a wild and passionate romance against the advice of their family and professional carers. Swinging between fantastical highs and tormented lows, the two must ultimately choose between sanity and love, before they destroy themselves and each other.
Written and directed by Paul Dalio, Touched with Fire is an intense, romantic drama that blends the beauty of art and creativity with the often dark reality of mental illness. It wowed critics earlier this year at the 2015 South by Southwest Film Festival and stars Katie Holmes and Luke Kirby in the two lead roles.
For a film about early onset Alzheimer's, this is a remarkably wry, honest and even hopeful drama, anchored by another staggeringly sensitive performance by Julianne Moore. Writing-directing team Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland are known for their observant depictions of human interaction (see Quinceañera), and they fill the screen with sharp dialogue and earthy emotions that make this much more than another movie about a disease. Instead, it's about how people can transcend what life throws at them, even if it knocks them down.
Moore stars as Alice, a New York linguistics professor who has just turned 50 when she starts noticing that she's forgetting words and getting lost. Her doctor gives her the tough diagnosis, and she uses her dry wit and sharp intellect to face the future with her steady husband John (Alec Baldwin) and their three grown children: married and pregnant Anna (Kate Bosworth), aspiring actress Lydia (Kristen Stewart) and free-spirit Tom (Hunter Parrish). The hardest thing to learn is that the disease is familial, and that she has passed it to at least one of her children. So while she can, Alice makes a contingency plan for the future as she watches her family members each react in a different way.
No, this isn't a light and breezy movie. But the filmmakers balance the moments of gut-wrenching emotion with smart humour ("Sorry, I forgot - I have Alzheimer's!") and bracing honesty ("I wish I had cancer!"). Moore is uncannily raw in the role, subtly revealing Alice's transformation in ways we barely notice until we're reminded what she used to be like. Even more powerful is her own awareness of what's happening. Opposite her, Baldwin has terrific camaraderie and an unexpected warmth, while both Bosworth and Stewart get a chance to dig much deeper as actors than they usually do. And what makes the film special is the way Alice's interaction with each character is uniquely individualistic.
Continue reading: Still Alice Review
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