Julianne Moore and — surprise! — Kristen Stewart deliver heart-rending performances in a drama about a woman struggling with early onset Alzheimer’s. Star rating: 3 out of 4.

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Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) is enduring the unendurable. At 50, her shiny and polished life — a distinguished career as a linguistics professor, a long and happy marriage, three grown and stable children, a lovely Manhattan home — is interrupted by a series of what seem like minor glitches. She loses her train of thought when giving a classroom speech; struggles to remember how to make her trademark bread pudding for Christmas dessert; forgets a word, or two, or three. Early onset Alzheimer’s disease, a doctor proclaims sadly, after testing. Alice swallows quietly, hearing the word, saying goodbye to the life she knew.

“Still Alice,” Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland’s film adaptation of Lisa Genova’s novel, is a tasteful, thoughtful work that you wish was just a bit better. Watching it, you wish the filmmakers had resisted the temptation to ladle gooey music over the emotional scenes (and atonal music to signify Alice’s confusion, in an on-the-nose way). You wish Alice’s world were a little less picture-perfect, and a little bigger. (Why, for example, does this lovely woman seemingly have no friends?) And you wish Alice’s husband, John (Alec Baldwin), and two of her children (Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish) were a little more developed — that we understood why they, particularly John, are behaving the way they do. (Especially in the film’s final third, it’s not clear whether John is heartless or simply in denial.)

But never mind all those quibbles: “Still Alice” is Julianne Moore’s movie — she’s in every scene — and it’s not only the role that will surely finally win her that elusive Oscar, but one that beautifully reminds us of this actor’s gift for finding truth in delicate underplaying. Listen to her voice, as she tenderly records a message for her future self: “Hi, Alice, I am you.” Watch her slightly-too-bright smile over that Christmas dinner, as Alice desperately tries to pretend that all’s well. And look how something girlish and innocent — something, from deep within, of Alice’s younger self — emerges during a speech, late in the film, delivered to an Alzheimer’s organization. “I am not suffering,” Alice insists in the speech. “I am struggling.” Moore, with her sad, pale eyes, shows us every fearful, desperate inch of that struggle, and it’s devastating.

Movie Review ★★★  

‘Still Alice,’ with Julianne Moore, Kristen Stewart, Alec Baldwin, Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish. Written and directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, based on the book by Lisa Genova. 99 minutes. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material and brief language including a sexual reference. Several theaters.

And while it’s no surprise that Moore is so good, “Still Alice” has an unexpected trick up its sleeve: the sweetly gentle performance of Kristen Stewart, as Alice’s actress daughter Lydia. While Alice’s other two children remain bland ciphers, Lydia reinvents her relationship with her mother and reveals herself as brave and loving, unafraid to step closer to Alice’s darkness. Who would have thought that the sulky scion of “Twilight” would deliver the first performance of 2015 that made this critic cry? She and Moore, together, will touch your heart.