Synopsis: 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.
Stars: Anna Kendrick, Kaniehtiio Horn, Charlie Carrick, Wunmi Mosaku
Director: Mary Nighy
Running Length: 89 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: From the comfort of a cushioned theater seat (or our well-worn couch), we will watch Alice, Darling and judge the lead character. We’ll see her unhealthy relationship and wonder why she can’t see it herself. Eventually, we will side with her two friends that watch, aghast, as their once-independent companion becomes incapable of separating herself from a controlling lover who may not physically harm her but inflicts psychological turmoil with far more profound consequences. As she pulls her hair out and rolls it into little tumbleweeds that she lets drift slowly to the ground, this coping mechanism will instead seem like barbarous torture to us. All the while, we’ll think we know better.
There’s a frank openness to Alice, Darling that can feel too raw, too invasive. While we may recognize at the outset that it stars an Oscar-winning actress and is purposefully constructed as a barebones examination of a toxic relationship, the deeper it pulls us underneath to gasp for air with our leading lady, the more uncomfortable it starts to feel. It’s easy to believe that we’ve all known an Alice or been an Alice at some point because relating to the preyed upon is natural. What about when the film stealthily, almost wickedly, makes us wonder if we’ve ever been the predator?
Anna Kendrick stars as Alice, and if the actress gets alarmingly under the skin of this character down to the marrow, it’s because she’s self-reported that she was in a relationship with striking similarities. So she knows what the emotional spiral feels/looks like. Alice (Kendrick, Into the Woods) is so tangled up with her artist boyfriend Simon (Charlie Carrick) that she has to lie to him about going out of town for work instead of telling him she’s off for a weekend at the cabin with her two girlfriends to celebrate the birthday of Tess (Kaniehtiio Horn, Possessor).
Tess and Sophie (Wunmi Mosaku, His House) already have suspicions about the toxicity brewing between Alice and Simon but want to respect boundaries. Still, Sophie’s bad vibes about Simon began when she met him at an opening of his exhibition, and she recognized tell-tale signs there was something off about the couple when they were together. The weekend’s focus is fun, although a simmering tension between Tess and Alice grows stronger when Tess can’t help but question how Alice has changed since the beginning of her relationship with Simon. Eventually cutting off her lifeline (i.e., Alice’s cellphone) to Simon has the desired effect of freeing up their friend to be present in the moment with them…but it only creates desperation in Simon to find out where Alice has gone.
Director Mary Nighy (daughter of Living’s Bill Nighy) keeps the film as simple as possible, quickly getting out of the Toronto city tension and letting the tranquility of lake life wrap up the three women. The threat of Simon infiltrating this peace hangs over the action because we know it will happen. This isn’t a spoiler; it’s in all the trailers and other marketing. While waiting for him to arrive and what that might bring, Kendrick and the other two actresses explore what it might look like for friends to have that carefully considered conversation/intervention. The script by Alanna Francis is straightforward but respectful, less concerned with wild dramatics than it is with tiny victories in Sophie and Tess helping Alice to open her eyes wider.
The small cast handles the material with a confident hand, led by Kendrick’s revealing portrayal of a woman struggling under the weight of emotions she may not be ready to deal with. It wouldn’t have worked to play the role bigger or even a hair smaller than what she’s doing. That it’s pitched perfectly demonstrates again Kendrick is an actress capable of creating a complex character from the ground up. Alice, Darling likely isn’t loud enough to attract much attention immediately, but word of mouth can help this one get in front of the Alices and Simons that need to see it and understand its significance.