Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | January 19th, 2023
Alice, Darling (Mary Nighy, 2022) 3 out of 4 stars.
As Alice and her two besties, Sophie and Tess, approach 30, they each find themselves at different stages of adulthood. Of the three, Alice is the only one in a serious relationship. Unfortunately, though her boyfriend, Simon, may be a semi-successful painter, he’s also a controlling, emotional abuser. In Alice, Darling, director Mary Nighy’s feature debut, we follow the titular main character as she struggles with her competing loyalties and a latent desire to break free from that which binds her. Sometimes awkward and painful, the journey nevertheless proves movingly cathartic.
Anna Kendrick (Stowaway) plays Alice, joined by Wunmi Mosaku (His House) and Kaniehtiio Horn (Tell Me I Love You) as Sophie and Tess, respectively, with Charlie Carrick (The Wolf and the Lion) in the role of Simon. When we first meet Alice, she is wrapping her hair tightly around a finger as she rides in a car. It’s a mannerism that will only grow worse as her anxiety rises, even leading to actual hair loss. She’s a nervous wreck, always worried about what Simon will think and do. And though he does not appear prone to physical violence, he still proves dangerous to her well-being.
At first, neither Sophie nor Tess suspects the truth, even if they find Alice’s behavior occasionally bizarre. But when all three go off for a week’s break at a lakeside cabin, it soon becomes impossible for Alice to hide the truth of the matter. Especially when Simon discovers the deception she used to get away: she told him it was a work trip. Little by little, Alice’s world comes crashing down.
The script, by Alanna Francis and Mark Van de Ven (The Rest of Us), adds another layer to the drama in a missing girl from the local community for whom daily search parties go out. Though it is never spelled out directly, Alice clearly sees some larger metaphor at work about women who fall prey to dangerous men, simultaneously gaining at least a modicum of strength from her participation in the searches. But will that be enough, coupled with Sophie and Tess’s help, to regain independence? Perhaps.
Nighy does a fine job with the actors, though it’s hard to understand what makes Simon so charming (if he ever was). As presented here, he’s creepy from the get-go. Still, his chilling sociopathy makes a nice contrast to the warmth emanating from Sophie and Tess. Kendrick is great as Alice; almost too perfect, as we fear she might split in two from the pressure.
After a terrific middle portion, the movie threatens to derail in its final act when Sophie and Tess suddenly behave against established temperament to suddenly freeze. It’s a shame, as if they have to accommodate some predetermined screenplay machinations, rather than be true to their personalities. Despite this, the ending satisfies, allowing Alice a genuine moment of rebirth. However frightening the unknown, it’s less scary than the devil left behind.