February 3, 2023 / Elevation Pictures
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Kaniehtiio Horn, Charlie Carrick, Wunmi Mosaku, Daniel Stolfi
Directed By: Mary Nighy
In the taut thriller ALICE, DARLING, Oscar® nominee Anna Kendrick (Best Supporting Actress, Up in the Air, 2009) stars as 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.
Written By Darren
Rating 3 out of 5
Alice, Darling captures the nuances of domestic abuse unlike any other film I have seen with a focus on the psychological aspects rather than the violence, providing Anna Kendrick with one of the best roles of her career, but the screenplay fails to move beyond its initial premise and falls short of the character study it strives to be.
The majority of films made about domestic abuse focus on the violence. Hollywood has an obsession showcasing domestic violence towards women by their spouses or partners, but this is only part of domestic abuse. There is no need to focus solely on the violence, as abuse can exist in the emotional and psychological sense where partners make their loved ones live in such fear that they are unable to do anything in fear of angering their partner. In terms of storytelling, it is rich material for a good character study, but not one we see as often because it creates a slow burn, character study which is a harder sell for audiences. But writer Alanna Francis has captured this side to domestic abuse and provided a rich character study for this film to develop.
Anna Kendrick stars as Alice, a young woman living in fear of her boyfriend Simon. He controls her life, whether she wants to admit it or not, to the point that he has caused a divide between her and her two best friends. But when she is invited to spend the week at her best friend’s family lake house to celebrate their friend’s 30th birthday, Alice lies to her boyfriend telling him she is away for work in fear of how he will react to her spending time with her friends. While at the lake house, Alice’s friends discover the reality of Alice’s relationship and stage an intervention in hopes of rescuing their friend, leading Alice to re-examine her life.
From the second the film begins, Alice’s character is written perfectly to capture the sad and disturbing reality of domestic abuse. Kendrick has the bubbly personality that women in her situation put on to convince themselves and others that they are not living in quiet fear while in public, but the reality behind closed doors is a stark difference. Alice suffers from severe anxiety, locking herself in the bathroom and tearing out her hair as a coping mechanism. She cannot say no to her boyfriend, and bases her decisions on what she believes he wants rather than what she wants for herself. It’s a sad yet accurate portrayal of how victims of domestic abuse feel, and Kendrick does a wonderful job capturing the character of Alice. For an actress known largely for her comedic talents, it was wonderful to see Kendrick in a dramatic role and showcasing what a truly gifted actress she is. From the ghostly look she has in her face as Alice merely moving through life in fear, to the timid appeasing attitude she has towards Simon, Kendrick goes to a truly dark place to create this character in what is easily one of her best performances of her career to date.
While the film does a wonderful job crafting the character of Alice and the reality of women living in domestic abuse, the writing does fumble when it gets to the intervention portion of the story. The slow realization of Alice’s friends discovering the reality of Alice’s relationship with Simon feels genuine and authentic, because many people do not realize that their loved ones are experiencing domestic abuse nor do they have the words to comfort their loved ones once they learn the truth. But the intervention does not fully land. The film feels like it merely scratches the surface, touching on the idea of the intervention without fully exploring it or the effect it has on Alice, leading her to the big decision she has to make. Part of the problem is the film’s short run time, not allowing the intervention to be fully explored as the film spends the majority of its time setting up the situation for viewers. At the same time, there is no single scene for the audience to latch on. Instead, the intervention happens slowly over multiple scenes as Alice’s friends help lead her to the decision she needs to make, which may be more accurate in how friends help get their loved ones to this point, but the lack of a powerful moment in the film buries the build up to the story’s climactic moment. To compensate for this, Simon’s reappearance in the final act of the film overwhelms the character and audience with Alice’s unsettling reality that acts as a catalyst for the film’s climactic moments.
There is no denying that Kendrick is the star of the film with her mesmerizing performance that creates the emotional core of the film, but her supporting cast rises to the occasion and all give great performances. Charlie Carrick is smooth as Simon, but in such a manner that every time he is on screen that he makes your skin crawl. Carrick brings a true darkness to Charlie that will leave you uneasy as you watch the film as you never know when he is going to unleash his anger or controlling nature over Alice. As Alice’s best friends, Wunmi Mosaku and Kaniehtiio Horn are terrific. They capture the fun nature of the friendship, each with their distinct personalities and characteristics that make them feel like a friend you know. Though, it is the way that they portray their characters’ processing the truth behind Alice and Simon’s relationship. There is a pensiveness to both Mosaku and Horn that captures the many emotions running through their characters including shock at what they have learnt, guilt for not seeing it before and being there to help their friend, and rage as they want to help Alice break free from her relationship with Simon. Especially Mosaku who has a true standout moment in the final few minutes of the film when these emotions boil over and play a pivotal role in Alice’s journey character arc.
On the one hand, Alice, Darling does a wonderful job capturing the psychological effects of domestic abuse through the writing of the character of Alice, even if it does not fully round out the story by merely scratching the surface on the second half of the story relating to the intervention and daunting decision faced by Alice. But thanks to a truly harrowing and empathetic lead performance by Anna Kendrick, capturing the nuances and emotionally rollercoaster faced by victims of domestic abuse, Alice, Darling is a good character study despite being held back by its writing from being something truly great.