STILL ALICE (PG13)
101 minutes/Opens tomorrow/**1/2
The story: Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) is a respected professor of linguistics at Columbia University. The discovery that she has early onset Alzheimer's disease comes as a bolt out of the blue and the family - including husband John (Alec Baldwin) and three grown children (Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish) - have to come to terms with it. Based on the novel of the same name by Lisa Genova.
Disease-of-the-week movies, a staple of cable channels such as Lifetime and Hallmark in the 1980s and early 1990s, pretty much followed a fixed template.
Some good, worthy individual would fall ill and it would turn out to be Lou Gehrig's Disease or leukaemia or a rare genetic disorder.
The details of the illness would be dutifully trotted out, tears would be shed and lessons would be learnt.
Married writer-director couple Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland (Quinceanera, 2006) have decided to revisit this formula when even the cable channels have long abandoned it.
Never mind that they have tried to gussy it up with a big-name cast, big-screen treatment and some attempt at a more sophisticated story here - Still Alice never really breaks the mould.
The fact that Alice is a linguistics professor who finds herself grappling with words is ironic and poignant.
But when she says things such as "I wish I had cancer, I wouldn't feel so ashamed", the public service announcement vibe to the proceedings is undeniable.
The performances prevent the film from becoming totally generic.
Moore makes you feel Alice's frustration and anger as her identity slips away from her. For that, she has been reaping Best Actress wins, including from the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild.
She is seen as a front-runner for an Oscar, for which she had been nominated four times previously as Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress.
While she is good, Moore has also done more moving and compelling work in better films, including The Kids Are All Right (2010) and Far From Heaven (2002).
The bigger acting surprise in Still Alice comes from Stewart, best known as the wooden lead in The Twilight Saga romance fantasy films.
Her chemistry with Moore as a mother-and- daughter pair makes the relationship between the increasingly hapless mother and sullen actress daughter the most moving thing here.