Alice, Darling

****

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Alice, Darling
"In its subtleties and strength it finds new ways to explore difficult ground."

Tightly wound, the film comes back again and again to hair. The management thereof, the removal, the curling, even eyeliner is an act to offset lashes. Hair in showers, hair in lakes, hair in spirals, hair in hands. Camouflage and signal, sword and shield, of the body and off, not quite alive and not yet dead. A boundary. One of many.

A d├ębut feature for Mary Nighy, some shorts, some TV, some roles in front of the camera to her credit. A credible and compelling work, buoyed by strong performances from its cast but given further strength by several choices that ground this. Written by Alanna Francis, working with Mark Van De Ven as story editor as she did for 2019's similarly relationship focused The Rest Of Us, the film is a story sufficiently solid that at times I felt it might have been a stage play.

Copy picture

That's not because it's staid, or still, but from its quality. The small cast, the intermittent use of an off-screen chorus, the ways in which space is used. It might be a bathroom, a bedroom, a bar, a cabin, a coffeeshop, a car, a gallery, a garage, a girls' weekend. Though they all feel real they could as easily be white lines on a stage, a lighting cue, a sterile intertitle. What matters is those within them.

Anna Kendrick is Alice. Kaniehtiio Horn and Wunmi Mosaku as long term (and from photographs probably adolescent if not childhood) friends Tess and Sophie. It's a big birthday for Tess, her 30th. Age just one of the things that is changing for the trio, high among them Alice's partner, Simon (Charlie Carrick). His presence looms over the film, though rarely in his own word and deed.

Alice is in a bad situation. Simon is the cause. Neither of those is in any way uncertain, but immediately after seeing it I heard members of an audience that should know better casting doubts that real life makes painful. To argue that anyone here is representative of everyone is to try to dilute its impact. Water may abound, but nothing here will not come out in the wash.

Kendrick carries the weight of an eponymous central role well. Acting flattened affect is difficult, but in a performances so often physical it is in the smallest bits of gesture and stance that her skill is evident. At times framing makes use of her tiny frame, dwarfed in the bathtub, overwhelmed in the shower, lost in the lake. At times it makes use of her features, the camera razor-close to a face we know well. This is her second feature production credit, unfortunately probably an indicator that at a certain point the best way to get these sorts of roles as an actress is to start making them.

She's in a strong cast, I don't know where the line is for being an industry veteran but the core four each have more than 50 roles to their names and that definitely counts. The chemistries between them are compelling. In small parts of the everyday, in particular the absolute demands of eating and drinking. In the set of smile, of jaw, of hair.

I mention the stage again because some scenes are built around their blocking. Placement of observer and observed might vary as cameras move but again and again it's not about what we see but what the characters see. At times the audience is assisted by Owen Pallett's score and a soundtrack that at times achieves the emotional transparency of musical. Mike McLaughlin's camera might be best known from last year's Kid Detective but clarity in a variety of environments is well achieved. There's the odd moment where focus isn't quite clear, but if one can forgive it in The Fabelmans one can forgive it here. Working with water is difficult and Alice, Darling has several depths to plumb.

There are some other moments that are starting to feel dated. The bokeh at the start were starting to feel de rigeur in 2012's Flying Blind. Inevitably as a film that might be regarded as about 'women's issues' folk will say we've had this sort of story before, but that argument is so rarely trotted out for identikit action films that one starts to suspect that they too are part of patriarchal control of narratives. That's not the film's fault by any stretch, and in its subtleties and strength it finds new ways to explore difficult ground.

Kendrick's performance is multi-faceted, the distinctions between the with and without, the away and the near are all clearly drawn despite their smallnesses. In the rest of the cast (even including credits as useful as 'Hot Waiter' and 'Fawning Sycophant') is support for a striking central role, one that's doubly, notably, eponymous. She carries the film, and as Alice is carrying even more.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2023
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Alice, Darling packshot
A young woman trapped in an abusive relationship becomes the unwitting participant in an intervention staged by her two closest friends.
Amazon link

Director: Mary Nighy

Writer: Alanna Francis

Starring: Anna Kendrick, Charlie Carrick, Wunmi Mosaku, Kaniehtiio Horn

Year: 2022

Runtime: 89 minutes

Country: US, Canada


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