Film Review – Alice, Darling
Alice, Darling (2022) marks a turn for Anna Kendrick. Most of her career has been filled with comedies and musicals, with the occasional exception sprinkled throughout. Here, we see her in a deeply serious drama involving abuse, trauma, and toxic relationships. While we haven’t seen her in this type of role too often, Kendrick more than proves her capability. She brings us along her character’s journey – going through an array of emotions with authenticity. This is a story of a person crippled by manipulation and fear, and the struggle to win back their self-worth. Kendrick shows us that her skillset is wider than some may have anticipated. She takes heavy material and handles it with the grace of a veteran actor.
Written by Alanna Francis and directed by Mary Nighy, the narrative highlights how abusive relationships can hinder a victim’s ability to think and act independently. Alice (Kendrick) is in a relationship with artist Simon (Charlie Carrick), but right away we sense that something is wrong. The scariest part of their dynamic is that the abuse is not physical, but mental. Alice claims that Simon does not hit her when he is upset. However, his gaslighting and shaming has caused Alice to feel at fault for everything. The editing (Gareth C. Scales) jumps between flashes of memory, as we hear – in narration – Simon’s rude remarks and passive aggressive comments. He passes judgement on what Alice wears to what she eats. Nighy’s direction puts us in Alice’s mindset, where we can feel her urge to be herself clashing against her fear of getting on Simon’s bad side.
The result is a life lived on eggshells. Simon has put such a weight on Alice’s shoulders that she can barely function on her own. The writing, direction, and Kendrick’s performance include numerous examples of Alice’s mental stress. From putting on makeup first thing in the morning, to not eating sugar, to pulling strands of her hair out, Alice’s daily routine revolves around winning over Simon’s approval. She practices conversations to herself to avoid saying the wrong thing. When they make love, the act feels more like Simon treating Alice as a tool as opposed to an equal partner. This set up is put to the test when Alice gets invited to a vacation getaway with her friends Tess (Kaniehtiio Horn) and Sophie (Wunmi Mosaku). What should be a fun girls’ trip turns into an internal battle for Alice – trying to be present for her friends but feeling the tug of Simon’s influence.
Advertisements would have us believe this to be a thriller, but Nighy’s direction plays things far more understated. In fact, Simon is rarely seen through much of the runtime – almost not at all during the second act. Instead, Nighy focuses on the symptoms of his abuse. This is shown through small, everyday activities between Alice, Tess, and Sophie. Normal routines like baking or having dinner are tinged with darker undercurrents. An offhand remark hints at how Simon’s judgmental personality has been stamped on Alice. When Tess and Sophie show concern for Alice’s welfare, she acts defensively. Her reaction shows how dangerous and tangled abusive relationships can be. Where does one draw the line regarding “Working things out?” Small inconveniences can turn to vicious acts before one even realizes it. We infer that what has happened to Alice has been built over years.
While the central tension around Alice works, the secondary elements don’t hold up as well. For a runtime of just ninety minutes, the narrative is padded out with extra bits. The biggest example is a secondary plot involving a missing woman. During their vacation, Alice and her friends catch news of a missing person who was last seen not far from where they are staying. Compelled to act, the three help in the search party – combing the surrounding forests and fields for any clues. The connection between the missing person and Alice’s predicament is plain and obvious. We intuit that the woman was a possible victim of mistreatment as well, and that Alice’s situation runs the risk of following the same path. Nighy hammers down this allegory with the use of the missing person’s lip gloss. How it is integrated into Alice’s story hammers the messaging with a heavy hand.
The final act is the weakest section. Unsurprisingly, Alice’s story eventually boils to a showdown with Simon – but their confrontation is unconvincing. The narrative stops in midstride, with a climax that feels rushed and tidy. From the choice of location to the parties involved (apparently characters can teleport to different places), the entire third act bumbles its way to the finish line. The camera shoots the finale in flat, medium to closeup angles. A scene that is supposed to be fraught with suspense just sort of hangs in the air, waiting for things to be resolved. The production tries to find a middle ground between being realistic about abusive relationships and providing Alice with closure, but the execution causes the story to sputter at the end.
Even still, Alice, Darling is an effective drama due to the strength of its performances, especially from Anna Kendrick in the lead role. This is not an easy story to watch, and at times can be uncomfortable. But it’s meant to be that way. It takes on an important topic with thoughtfulness. It examines a dark corner of humanity in the hopes of one day finding the means to overcome it.