Alice, Darling offers a different portrayal of an abusive relationship than we typically see onscreen. Instead of gut-wrenching scenes showing a woman being abused, it focuses on the psychological toll that abuse takes. In this case, we definitely recognize it as being mental/emotional, yet there's an insinuation of the physical variety, too. The film is not without a few minor problems. Nevertheless, what it says will provide insight to many audience members, and it might even provide a little inspiration to those who are in a similar relationship.
Anna Kendrick is Alice. We know something is off from the first scene, when she meets her best friends Sophie (Call Jane's Wunmi Mosaku) and Tess (Kaniehtiio Horn) at a restaurant and can't stop looking at her phone. That's because boyfriend Simon (Charlie Carrick) is constantly texting to check up on her. We quickly surmise that he's beyond controlling. Alice has a compulsive habit of literally pulling out her hair when the anxiety he creates becomes too much for her to bear.
Soon after, the women decide to take a week's vacation together at a cottage near a lake. Alice lies to Simon, telling him that she's going on a work trip. This lie prevents her from having a good time. He continues texting, forcing her to add layers to the fabrication. She worries about what will happen if he finds out the truth. Sophie and Tess realize something is wrong because of her erratic mood. One of the film's most poignant moments finds Alice being confronted by Tess about the situation, then responding that she's a terrible person for lying to Simon.
The strength of Alice, Darling is in its depiction of what abuse does to the individual enduring it. Alice has essentially been brainwashed, telling herself that she alone caused the problems in the relationship. Simon loves her, she thinks, and if she could stop making him unhappy, things would be better. The film gets to the heart of that distorted mindset, as well as to how it creates a kind of anxiety so intense that people take to extreme measures – like Alice's trichotillomania – in an effort to alleviate it.
Kendrick does some of the best work of her career in the role. She infuses Alice with a jittery quality that allows us to see how she is suffering inside even when trying to put on a brave face. The performance is full of glances and gestures that collectively let us know how unquiet this character's mind is. Simon has thoroughly controlled her to the point where she filters practically every decision through the lens of how it will impact him. Kendrick makes it clear that Alice is in hell, unable to enjoy the simplest of pleasures, so preoccupied is she with not upsetting him. Just as good is how the actress conveys cognitive dissonance upon realizing her friends are starting to recognize the depth of her situation.
The one area where Alice, Darling falters is in its portrayal of Simon. Carrick is okay in the role; it's the writing that's off. Guys like that typically come with a charming side. It's an especially sick part of the abuser cycle. By having moments of kindness or generosity amid the manipulativeness, the women are made to believe that the bad periods are their fault, and if they could just change their own behavior, their boyfriends/husbands would be in charming mode all the time. That dynamic is key to understanding why women remain trapped in abusive relationships. Onscreen, Simon is a creep through-and-through. He might as well have a mustache to twirl. The movie would have been significantly strengthened by a more realistic take.
Beyond that, Alice, Darling offers an illuminating look at the power an abuser can have over his partner. Kendrick is outstanding, and the dynamic she creates with Mosaku and Horn captures the helplessness loved ones feel in seeing someone they care about stuck in the web of abuse. The film is engaging drama, but also an eye-opener for anybody who wants to understand the dysfunction that makes victims feel like they can't move on.
Alice, Darling will be exclusively in AMC Theatres nationwide January 20, 2023
out of four
Alice, Darling is rated R for language and some sexual content. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.