Movie Review: Kendrick despairs at the trap of being “Alice, Darling

Alice meets two friends for drinks after work. But there’s a nervous edge to the evening, something about the repeated “ping” alerts from her cell phone that her friends exchange a resigned look over.

Is her job that essential, her work that demanding? No. It’s “Simon,” her longtime beau.

When she ducks into the restroom, it isn’t to powder her nose or return a call. It’s the rearrange her decolletage. A cleavage “selfie,” is it?

The friends gush over the hunky waiter they instantly insist is “obsessed with you.” Alice is flustered, but she doesn’t smile. And as one of their number is about to turn 30, they try to rope Alice into plans for a week at the other’s family cottage in the woods. Alice can’t commit to that.

“Simon needs me,” she begs off, adding that he’s “got a gallery opening” and that they’re invited.

When we see her go to great pains to destroy the waiter’s phone number when she gets home, our suspicions grow. When we see her fantasize about the sexy server, we wonder. And when we hear her rehearse a “You know that business trip to Minneapolis” lie, we guess ahead.

Is Alice deciding to have an affair?

“Alice, Darling” teases out what’s going on in in intimate, slow-burn drama that’s a reminder that not all abuse is physical. Anna Kendrick stars as our victim/co-dependent in what is often a point by portrait of the shame and self-loathing that batter the psyche in a toxic relationship.

We can see the clinginess. And over the course of that week in the woods with her friends and their “You’ve changed” accusations, through flashbacks that tell her and us the depths of “control” in play here, Alice is given the reasons to do something about it.

It’s a female empowerment story with a whiff of “Lifetime Original Movie” about it, a tad too on the nose, a drama that’s something of a tease that builds towards minor melodramatics, not major ones. But Kendrick is riveting in this simple, old fashioned “star vehicle” that focuses wholly on the star.

Wunmi Mosaku of TV’s “Lovecraft Country” and Canadian actress Kaniehtiio Horn — this was filmed in Ontario — play the BFFs sketched-in and then called upon to either make Alice see what they see, or make us question their motives in tossing jabs at what they view as her more limited life. We see the dynamic of their week together, Anna’s remoteness from their trio, and wait for the fireworks.

Simon, played by Charlie Carrick of TV’s “Departure,” is a tall, handsome, accented artist. He seems a success, a “catch.” But for all his dash, swagger and attentiveness he’s insecure enough to make us wonder if he’s taking that out on Alice, or simply annoyingly needy.

And then there’s the script’s heavy-handed allegory. The trio has arrived in this corner of the boondocks as a teenaged girl has gone missing. Alice overhears the worry and the judgmental local gossip, and even agrees to pitch in with the search parties, in between sessions of ignoring her friends and brooding over her own circumstances.

“Alice, Darling” has a compactness and narrowness of focus that gives this low-heat story the illusion of pace, even as we’re watching not-much-at-all happen. Alanna Francis’ script concentrates on Alice, and the power imbalance of the casting — Kendrick is the only “name” in this — contributes to our identifying with Alice and her plight. That’s all we have to focus on.

Fortunately for us, Kendrick delivers. She immerses us in Alice’s efforts to keep her secrets and avoid sorting anything out even if she suspects the status quo is everything her friends seem to suggest it is.

Alice as a character has the agency to do something about her situation. Or does she? Is there anything that can move her to act?

Director Nighy, the daughter of acclaimed British actor Bill Nighy and a reminder that the British practically invented “Nepo Babies,” allows us the luxury of guessing where this is going and what role the missing girl plays into all this in ways that underscore that word “tease” that I keep coming back to.

But when the third act arrives like a hard slap on a cold day, we identify with Alice, fear for her and cling to the hope that some sort of intervention will shake her, move her and deliver her, if she’s willing to accept it.

Rating: R for language and some sexual content.

Cast: Anna Kendrick, Wunmi Mosaku, Kaniehtiio Horn and Charlie Carrick

Credits: Directed by Mary Nighy, scripted by Alanna Francis. A Lionsgate release.

Running time: 1:29

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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