Alice, Darling (2022) Review!!

Synopsis – In ALICE, DARLING, Oscar® nominee Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air) is Alice in this taut thriller about a woman pushed to the breaking point by her psychologically abusive boyfriend, Simon. While on vacation with two close girlfriends, Alice rediscovers the essence of herself and gains some much-needed perspective. Slowly, she starts to fray the cords of codependency that bind her. But Simon’s vengeance is as inevitable as it is shattering – and, once unleashed, it tests Alice’s strength, her courage, and the bonds of her deep-rooted friendships.

My Take – It is a sad truth, that despite the increased attention on all forms of mental health, the trauma of a person stuck in an abusive relationship continues to be rarely discussed.

Mainly as emotional and psychological abuse attacks a victim in a different manner than physical abuse. The scars may not be outward, but the stress and damage inside lingers longer. And once caught up in the cycle, most individuals, particularly women, are made to feel such shame that they cannot even share their experiences with those closest to them.

This new drama, written by Alanna Francis and directed by Mary Nighy, takes a stark look at the physical and psychological toll that emotional abuse can take on a person through the eyes of a young woman dealing with just such abuse. Essentially a character study of the impact that gas lighting and manipulation one partner can have over another over time, here the story paints a raw portrait of what being under a quietly conniving thumb in an isolating relationship actually looks like.

While the film is both vivid and deeply upsetting to watch, it also deeply flawed as it is thinly sketched and lacks a strong sense of directorial perspective. Yes, there are some edge-of-the-seat moments and interestingly subtle tonal inflections, but the story spends unnecessary time on a contrived subplot about a missing girl, time that might have been better devoted to developing the central story line. Also it is a bit of a slow burn, despite what its trailers would have you believe.

Sure, director Nighy gets the most essential thing right, authentically capturing a not-uncommon real-life experience with rare nuance. And at its best, the film is about the power of friendship, love and how it can make damaged people whole again. Yet, the film misses out on the sophistication and the depth required to hit the right spots to make this one work.

In the end, the film rises and falls on Anna Kendrick, who has rarely been better. Kendrick revealed, recently, that she herself had been in a long-term relationship that involved emotional abuse and the erosion of her self-esteem, and here, tasked with showing a woman wracked by psychology of being caught in an abusive relationship, she never once hits a wrong note. It’s such a well realized turn, regardless of the stagnant proceedings, you’ll completely engage with what Kendrick is doing.

The story follows Alice (Anna Kendrick) who has a controlling British boyfriend, Simon (Charlie Carrick), who doesn’t physically hurt her, but due to his uncertain career as an artist, is in constant need of reassurance, is always tracking Alice’s movement and dominantly makes the decisions for them.

As a result of his behavior, she has been hurting herself. And when her friends Sophie (Wunmi Mosaku) and Tess (Kaniehtiio Horn) make a plan to go away to a lakeside cottage owned by Sophie’s parents for the weekend for Tess’s birthday, Alice ends up lying to Simon, and goes along. However, once she is there her time with her friends’ turns from a fun girls’ trip into a precarious one, with Alice beginning to wonder if she should go public with her problems to her friends.

With a limited run time of 89 minutes, we don’t really get to know Alice or Simon in the past; there’s almost no backstory to be had here, no way of understanding who Alice was before being constantly lashed by Simon’s withering critiques. But we do get to know her in the present, and that she does have people in her life who want to help her.

The script, by Alanna Francis, acknowledges how self-absorbed the self-negating can be. Simon’s line is that Alice is a bad person. He’s gaslighting her, obviously, but the truth is that she’s too miserable right now to be a good friend.

One of the fascinating things to see is how her friends Sophie and Tess are not aware of the internal struggles that Alice is facing. As viewers who have seen Alice’s awful communications with Simon, they are begging for them to figure her out. The script allows us to notice that her friend Tess is also an artist, but less successful than obnoxious, strutting Simon, and we can see the queasy irony in Alice having possibly met Simon in Tess’s circle, and how he is coldly taking her away from them.

Sadly, the film is very oddly paced and staged that it becomes hard to invest in it completely. While the majority of the film takes place in the cottage’s neighborhood, a peaceful rural community, the moment the group of three arrives, Alice, after noticing a flier for a missing girl when the group is making a brief stop at a convenience shop, ends up suddenly participating in the search attempts to discover the teen, and is consumed by the local case.

It’s challenging to determine what the case is trying to tell us without detracting from Alice’s already difficult story. The case piques Alice’s curiosity more and more, but its goal becomes progressively less clear. Overall, the script is never fully fleshed out as necessary to the story, aside from serving as an on-the-nose cautionary tale and a resource for future manipulation Simon tries to use against Alice. The film would have been fine without it and perhaps benefited from pruning it altogether to spare the scattered focus that doesn’t quite fit.

Yet, you remained glued, mainly due to Anna Kendrick, who really does give a career-best performance as Alice, a woman in turmoil and denial over her emotionally abusive relationship. We always knew that Kendrick had the talent, but this film shows her acting skills to be much deeper and more complex than she is often given the opportunity to show. It’s a brave and disturbing performance, and yet Kendrick does find places for her trademark levity as well.

Supporting her are Wunmi Mosaku, who is fantastic, and Kaniehtiio Horn, who is solid. The inherent chemistry between Horn, Mosaku, and Kendrick makes engaging in their friendship simple. Charlie Carrick also leaves a strong mark, and manages to be chilling as the manipulative boyfriend, especially with his chilling mirthless chuckles. On the whole, ‘Alice, Darling’ is a profoundly unsettling film anchored by a phenomenal Anna Kendrick.

Directed –

Starring – Anna Kendrick, Wunmi Mosaku, Charlie Carrick

Rated – R

Run Time – 89 minutes

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