ALICE, DARLING— 3 STARS
At a crucial moment of realization and separation, Anna Kendrick’s title character in Alice, Darling has lost an earring given to her by her boyfriend while out paddleboarding on a lake with a friend. She panics and tries hopelessly over and over to swim to the bottom into cold and murky water. When she finally speaks to her state of panic, her words are “I can’t do another thing wrong.”
That line from Kendrick is as frosty as the water for a lingering moment. There’s a sense of surprise that Alice actually said something at all. The reason is, up to that point, only the viewers of Alice, Darling have seen the small, private glimpses into the kind of distrusting pressure coming from her burgeoning artist boyfriend Simon, played by TV actor Charlie Carrick.
Alice, Darling, written by Alanna Francis (The Rest of Us), constantly orbits Alice and her psyche. Through that perspective, the film shows Simon’s neediness for personal and sexual fulfillment from the submissive Alice. His ego, amplified by his vain artistic aims, cannot handle criticism or even compliments. All the while, Alice is there tethered to his every beck and call.
LESSON #1: THE SIGNS OF NARCISSISTIC ABUSE SYNDROME– Simon’s constant devaluation of Alice and her corresponding behavior to be manically attached to his calls, texts, presence, and words show how far the woman’s mentality has been warped. The textbook narcissistic abuse behaviors of Simon scream off the screen. However, those screams stay silent because of Alice’s stern denial of what has occurred and built up for years. In her eyes, she’s the wrong one.
So, when that line of “I can’t do another thing wrong” comes out, it becomes the first crack of many to come to Alice’s jaded core. The fact that her two best friends, Tess and Sophie, played by Letterkenny’s Kaniehtiio Horn and Loki standout Wunmi Mosaku, get to hear that overt admission simultaneously confirms fears and sets a course for supportive action for Mary Nighy’s film.
Companionship is key to Alice, Darling, the feature directorial debut of Mary Nighy (Bill’s daughter). It was Tess and Sophie’s idea to leave the city and enjoy a week-long lakeside cabin birthday getaway. Before they realized a sliver of what was really going on, the two had their unspoken suspicions about Simon and Alice. They saw the clues to an eating disorder, her cell phone dependency for constant connection, and her apprehension for loosening up like one of the girls.
When they pushed, curt arguments would come out. At least someone pushed. Not everyone is lucky to have close confidantes. As fate would have it, the three women arrived at their rural Ontario rental during a time of off-screen local upheaval. The small town has been in the midst of a fruitless missing persons search for a young woman thought to have fled her abusive partner. As that subplot surfaces, that parallel is not lost on the three women and the film itself.
LESSON #2: HELP A FRIEND SEE THE TRUTH– Thus, to now see Alice in a state of hyperventilation over a missing earring and confiscated cell phone, Sophie and Tess change their tune. In other “girl tribe” settings of more comedic movies, someone would scream at the victimized Alice to, in so many words, get the f–k out of whatever situation she is in. Instead, these two stalwart friends take on a more holistic approach to address Alice’s codependency and mental abuse and chip away at the calloused fear inside.
With enduring courage, Alice, Darling is unafraid of its percolating host of difficult triggers. Once again, more unfocused efforts would address those issues with biting audacity and a louder volume. However, Francis’s screenplay knows a damaged friend cannot be healed in the matter of a bestie weekend. Rather, the movie fleshes out and rightfully favors what will be the beginnings of a bracing honesty for its characters. More often than not, that looks more like a caring and standing defender of outside perspective than a scorned person of vengeful reprisal.
The credit for Alice, Darling’s more dignified attitude lies within the women in front of the camera and Mary Nighy behind it. Achingly reaching for her character’s renewed clarity, this is some of the best work of Anna Kendrick’s career. From even the small ways Anna portrays nervous ticks with her hair and hands to mirror the tightly-wound disposition, the former Oscar nominee dials down her usual effervescence and offers a nuanced performance to be quite proud of.
Kaniehtiio Horn and Wunmi Mosaku emerge as very engaging pillars of strength. They were not assigned “good cop” or “bad cop” parts to bust down doors of conflict. Likewise, they are never a pair of echo chambers either. Each has their own concentrations of temperament and tolerance for what they discover– both arriving at the same goal of protection from their own directions. Without question, they are the linchpins of Alice, Darling.
Together, all three find impressive unity. One thing is for sure. You’ll never listen to the lyrics of “Stay (I Missed You)” from Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories the same way again. Stuff is going to hit close to home and that’s the point.
The latitude was there in Alice, Darling to have characters become completely destroyed in more shocking and titillating fashions. Many movies circling abuse go straight to stiffer physical variety with bolder and wilder narratives. Mary Nighy and Alanna Francis took on a more unique challenge to expose the coercive side that lacks tawdry bloodshed. Their result hurts plenty in its own right and succeeds to seek higher healing.