A comma makes all the difference in the title “Alice, Darling”. It’s not affectionate, but it can be a request, a request, a plea, perhaps a request, an order, or even an inside-out compliment, depending on what happens next.
The grammatical structure of the title is a clever wordplay that shows how words can have different meanings and different consequences depending on how they are used. This is especially true for this indie drama in which Anna Kendrick plays a woman who considers her intimate relationships emotionally and verbally abusive.
Alice (Kendrick) has some tics and will be introduced soon. She twists her long brown hair with her fingertips until it is tight. She pulls its ends, rips it from her scalp and rolls it into her ball. Yet she still curls her shredded locks into bouncy waves every morning and applies her liquid eyeliner like armor.
It’s a type of armor, a mask she believes will protect her from sideways thorns her boyfriend Simon (Charlie Carrick) throws at her. Simon is older, an ambitious artist, and nothing seems to satisfy his attendance at gallery openings or the constant stream of attention he demands of Alice.
But Simon is also charming. All criticism was layered with compliments, requests were expressed in declarations of love, and Alice’s inner monologue was replaced by his voice. sneaked into her head, took up residence, and destroyed her from the inside out.
Screenwriter Alana Francis bravely dives into this dangerous dynamic and breaks it apart. Director Mary Nye visualizes it, interspersing the screen with momentary pops of flashbacks, and Simon invades Alice’s consciousness even when she’s not nearby. When Alice’s carefully controlled exterior cracks while on vacation, she sways in panic from the dissociation of Dead Eyes.
Alice’s perfect hairstyles and morning jogs, self-help podcasts and sugar reprimands don’t fool Sophie (Unmi Mosaku) and Tess (Kanietio Horne), two people who know Alice well. They escape to Sophie’s parents’ lake house to celebrate Tess’s birthday, but tensions run high as Simon’s presence looms large in the form of Alice’s cell phone and hair trigger anxiety. Alice shatters, only to find her old self emerging from the wreckage. It changes from a thing to a literal thing.
A young local woman who has gone missing in the area lends the story a threatening frisson that portends Alice’s impending doom. and without compromising the sophisticated, elevated indie aesthetic.
In execution, “Alice, Darling” is a bit overt and polite, but it’s very rare to see this kind of abusive relationship, the kind that leaves emotional rather than physical scars. Cover the shortcomings of the script.
2.5 Stars (out of 4)