From the outside, it can be hard to understand how someone would choose to stay in a toxic relationship. When dealt with in movies, the situation is typically highly dramatized, often with a man getting his comeuppance in a thriller-type story. The new film Alice, Darling takes a different approach while still keeping the drama high.
Right from the first frame, Alice (Anna Kendrick) has a nervous energy about her, wrapping her hair tightly around her finger and constantly checking her text messages while out for drinks with her friends Sophie (Wunmi Mosaku) and Tess (Kaniehtiio Horn). The source of her tension is soon revealed to be her boyfriend Simon (Charlie Carrick), a gallery artist who seems to have a hold on her that’s less like love and more like possession.
She agrees to go on a weeklong trip with her friends, but she’s so afraid of Charlie’s reaction that she lies to him, saying she’s going on a work trip instead. But getting away from him seems to cause even more stress than being with him, with the idea of possibly displeasing Simon on her mind almost every minute of the day.
Directed by Mary Nighy, making her feature film debut, and written by Alanna Francis and story editor Mark Van de Ven, the film does an excellent job of imparting the pressure that Alice feels she is under. Although the scenes featuring Alice and Charlie together are limited, they sprinkle dialogue of Charlie manipulating Alice in subtle and overt ways throughout the film, showing the power he has over her.
Alice’s frazzled state of mind also reveals itself in her treatment of her friends, who she’s known virtually her entire life. She’s standoffish in general with both, and especially testy with Tess, but she’s even afraid to tell them exactly what’s going on. Despite being on vacation at a lake, Alice never lets herself let loose, always worried about what Simon would think.
If there’s a qualm to be had with the film, it’s that it seems to be setting up a thriller-type story that never comes. Instead, the drama stays mostly interior as Alice struggles with her overbearing thoughts. Consequently, it’s tough to get a full read on how deep the troubles with Simon actually go as the film only hints at the details of their relationship.
Kendrick has not had many great showcases in recent years, so this film gives her the chance to stretch her dramatic chops a bit. She does well, even if the role is a bit hard to read. Mosaku and Horn are not as well-known, but both put in effective performances, especially Mosaku. Carrick feels generic in a role that’s only designed to show the character’s bad traits.
Alice, Darling takes a different route toward exploring the abuser/victim dynamic, with that relationship taking a backseat to the one Alice has with her friends. It still contains plenty of dramatic moments; they just aren’t the ones that might be expected from this type of film.
Alice, Darling opens in select AMC theaters on January 20.