REVIEW: “Alice, Darling” (2022)

The new film “Alice, Darling” sets out to shine an honest and earnest light on the issue of psychological and emotional abuse. In her feature directorial debut, Mary Nighy takes this undeniable potent subject matter and examines it from a distance, yet with remarkable clarity. Along the way, she also looks at the bond of friendship and the importance of having supportive people in your life who you can trust unconditionally outside of your partner.

Written by Alanna Francis, “Alice, Darling” takes a strategic and ultimately impactful approach to its central subject. Rather than concentrating on the actual abuse and showing it as it happens, the film reveals more through its effects, namely on a young woman named Alice. The crippling anxiety, the loss of all self-confidence, the physical self-harm – just some of the signs shown that paint a vivid picture of what a victim may sometimes endure. It’s tricky material, but Nighy handles it well by showing restraint and (mostly) avoiding the dramatics.

The film stars Anna Kendrick, a steady hard worker who has put out at least one movie a year for most of her 20-year career. She’s an interesting actress who often plays somewhat similar characters despite the kind of movie she’s in. And while much of her work has been related to comedy, she has taken on some more serious roles, mostly in supporting turns (she received an Oscar nomination for 2009’s “Up in the Air”).

Image Courtesy of Lionsgate

Here, Kendrick is given her heftiest dramatic role playing Alice, a psychologically battered young woman who tries her best to mask the emotional distress brought on by her relationship with her obsessive and controlling boyfriend, Simon (Charlie Carrick). He’s an up and coming artist whose entire world revolves around his wants and needs. He puts on a good show, but he’s a much different person when not hobnobbing with potential backers.

Simon’s abuse isn’t the out-and-open kind. It’s hidden under a veil of sincerity. He tells Alice how much she means to him. He buys her nice things. He proudly introduces her to all his art world friends. In some ways Simon is self-deluded enough to think those things alone make him a good partner. But as the movie progresses, we get a better sense of his unbridled self-absorption and smothering control. He routinely shames and manipulates Alice, exploiting her vulnerability and stripping her of all self-esteem. And we see it taking its toll.

It all comes to a head after Alice is invited to join her friends Sophie (Wunmi Mosaku) and Tess (Kaniehtiio Horn) for a week-long lake house getaway. Rather than tell Simon where she’s going, Alice makes up a fake business trip story and heads off with her pals. She puts on a good face and keeps the ruse hidden. But she can’t fully hide her troubled state of mind. Her friends suspect something is wrong and try to get her to open up. But Alice keeps everything bottled up to the point where she starts to unravel.

Image Courtesy of Lionsgate

Nighy does a good job exploring the dynamic between Alice and her friends. Sophie and Tess can see through Alice’s front, and it’s easy to tell she’s not the same person she used to be. They attempt to break through to her, pointing out her disconnection and questioning the obsessive way Simon texts her and tries to guilt her into coming home. Overall it’s an eye-opening look at friendships; more specifically the supportive systems often found within them. And Nighy uses the dramatically different personalities of Sophie and Tess to show the different sides of such vital relationships.

But so much comes back to Kendrick and her performance which feels rooted in a personal lived experience (In fact it was. Kendrick recently revealed to PEOPLE magazine that she was inspired to do the movie following her own experience in an emotionally and psychologically abusive relationship). It’s a surprisingly subtle portrayal of a woman crumbling, with Kendrick never overplaying it yet vividly conveying the lasting impact of abuse.

While the story starts to come unglued in the final 15 minutes, the most notable misstep is a needless tacked-on subplot involving a missing girl. The metaphor is glaringly obvious, but it’s the idea of using a missing girl that is problematic. It’s not the most tasteful choice. It certainly doesn’t undermine what is otherwise an honest and insightful drama. But it does routinely pull us away from the many things the movie does well. “Alice, Darling” is now showing in select theaters.


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