Genesis Cinema, 93-95 Mile End Rd, Bethnal Green, London E1 4UJ, United Kingdom, 15:20 · 17:50
Rio Cinema, 107 Kingsland High St, London E8 2PB, United Kingdom, 17:15
Alice (Anna Kendrick) in a woman pushed to the breaking point by her psychologically abusive boyfriend, Simon (Charlie Carrick). 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's shattering, and, once unleashed, it tests Alice’s strength, her courage, and the bonds of her deep-rooted friendships.
When the audience first encounters Alice, she's fully in denial about her fraught relationship with her boyfriend Simon and how damaging it's. Her slow burn realization of the harm it's doing to her and her participation in that reveals itself over time, but at first, it's a mystery, to the audience and to the character. When we meet Alice, she doesn’t really know who she's all. It's actually a really bizarre character to play because the whole point is that she’s sort of lost herself, and that everything in her focus, all her energy, is going toward being kind of small and flexible and to manage her partner’s potential reactivity. And the sense that if she’s just a little bit better, if she's just perfect, everything will be okay. That mindset slowly creeps in, and, before she knows it, she doesn’t recognize yourself. Only when she's with her close friends does Alice have a little more room to breathe. It’s interesting because she’s resistant to that at first, if she fully recognizes and accepts herself and then returns to her partner, she will be in serious trouble, and her carefully constructed if self-sabotaging world will come apart. Alice’s very different public and private demeanor offers existential clues into Alice’s authentic self, even when Alice is not quite aware or willing to accept who that's.
This character seems fine on the surface, but obviously, you've little windows into her. A lot of the times that she’s in the bathroom, obsessively twirling and pulling her hair, it's clear she's in great distress about something. So how do you bring that out in a subtle way that tells you what’s happening inside the character? Alice presents as successful and secure, beloved by her boyfriend, her friends, herself. But slowly the enigmatic, self- destructive fissures appear, even as Alice refuses to address her mysterious downward spiral. She refuses to admit or confront it. Façade is all. We're with her, in her emotional perspective. The audience, like Alice, experiences the symptoms but not the root cause. But in this case, as in so many in real life, the character isn’t fully aware of what’s happening to her because it isn’t overt and because there’s a lot of gaslighting happening. The cause is a mystery, as much to her as to the audience; in many ways, Alice is an unreliable narrator. The literal and emotional journey of Alice, especially her complicated, inner turmoil that she cannot articulate but reveals in often self-sabotaging ways.
There's a world where we understand that Simon will never change. He will leave this movie telling everyone he knows, ‘Yeah. I dated this girl who was crazy. She turned off her phone. I didn’t know where she was. I went to find her and her friends ganged up on me'. This is the sort of abuse that's very much under the surface but still very present and toxic and it's all too common, if not discussed or recognized fully. The hidden nature of Alice’s relationship with her boyfriend, Simon; his controlling, manipulative behavior; and Alice’s willingness to keep the by peace by accepting blame that doesn’t belong to her. Alice, incapable of facing her issues, sublimates and acts out her suffering in increasingly alarming and mysterious ways. Her polar opposite is her friend Sophie (Wummi Mosaku), a clear-eyed, emotionally centered warm soul with an altruisticr heart. She's the proof. People, but especially women, have a really hard time trusting that what they’re feeling is real and that there’s a temptation to show really overt acts or scenes that make you really understand that, okay, what’s happening is wrong. But that's not how it plays out all the time. To trust that the audience would come along with one character’s perception, flawed, personal and complex as it's, that being enough, is scary.
Sophie is someone who's filled with love and enthusiasm, and she wants joy to surround the people that she loves and she just tries her best to do that, whether it’s through like baking or like hiking and kayaking or fireworks she plans for Tess’s (Kaniehtiio Horn) birthday. She wants people to feel loved and happy. It’s no accident that she works for a nonprofit! She's someone who accepts people for who they're, and doesn’t try and change them. Tess is loyal, bighearted, forthright, mischievous, blunt, kind, sometimes judgmental but ultimately forgiving. Tess is a brilliant artist but she’s not raking in the cash or the notices, in contrast with Simon, who's very successful. Tess has all of the best intentions. But we don’t think that she knows how to vocalize her feelings with sensitivity. She's brash and doesn’t exactly think before she speaks. Tess says what's on her mind and deals with the consequences later. And, in this case, her feelings about Simon and her best friend Alice are also influenced by where she's in her career, but ultimately it's motivated by her deep love for Alice.
Honesty without compassion is brutality. Compassion without honesty is enabling. They haven’t figured out how to be compassionate and honest, Sophie for sure, and Tess definitely hasn’t figured out how to be honest with compassion. They're all in a transitional time, in their early 30s and going through their personal growth as people and friends and figuring out how to navigate all of it. The characters, their emotional and literal journey is recognizable and, unfortunately, in terms of Alice and her issues with her boyfriend, and her struggle to reconcile those with herself and her childhood friends.
The film tells the story from the emotional point of view of the characters, particularly Alice, so audiences experience her self-destructive habits/reactions to her deep despair and low self-esteem as she does, not entirely sure from whence this comes because she isn’t capable of addressing her underlying angst. A particularly telling and disturbing routine is her incessant hair twisting and yanking of strands, a small but alarming physical manifestation of her inner turmoil. There's also something to the literal journey Alice and her friends take, from city to bucolic countryside, this change of scenery and vibe ultimately liberates Alice and her friends.
"Alice, Darling" is a subtle, nuanced story about coercion and control. It's about female friendship and coercive abuse. It’s riveting tale, of course, but ultimately it's a story of female resilience and empowerment. What you can do very well in literature is describe what’s happening to somebody internally, what’s happening inside them. Sometimes in film it’s harder to bring something that’s nonverbal out. You need to see the lake from the hot tub and the herbs from the kitchen. There’s a whole bit of business with wood chopping. It's all part of the dance of designing the blocking and that interaction between direction, cinematography, and production design.