There’s something really awful that we do to long-term victims of intimate partner abuse. We shift the blame onto them with questions that we don’t think are judgmental, but certainly are. “Why did you stay for so long?” “Why didn’t you just leave?” And that’s if we recognize the signs of abuse at all. As a guy, I feel like we are especially blind to it. But it’s not easy, neither for those who are being abused and for those who are on the outside looking in.
With Alice, Darling, director Mary Nighy takes a hyper-realistic approach to the psychological turmoil such abuse can have on a woman and the people closest to her. Anna Kendrick plays Alice, who on the surface appears to have everything. She’s got a good job, a sweet Toronto apartment that she shares with her artist boyfriend Simon (Charlie Carrick). He even comes with a swoon-worthy British accent. But Alice also has great friends that she’s known for a lifetime, Sophie (Wunmi Mosaku) and Tess (Kaniehtiio Horn). They know her better than anyone.
And yet, there’s a lot they don’t see. When a flirty waiter slips Alice his phone number, she goes to ridiculous lengths to make sure that slip of paper disappears. While the ladies are talking, her phone buzzes constantly as if she’s a 911 operator working the switchboard. At home, Alice sculpts and waxes and shaves herself to an obsessive degree, to achieve perfection that will keep Simon from criticizing her looks. Such a degree of perfection is never possible. The stress has Alice twisting and pulling at her hair in long strands, which only adds to the problem.
Alice, Darling is largely-centered on the three best friends. Simon isn’t actually in the movie that much, save for an art gallery showing where he plays the struggling artist bit for sympathy, only to turn it around and lash out at Alice later. When invited by Sophie to go join her and Tess for a birthday getaway, Alice comes up with a lie that will convince Simon that she can go. But the trip is fraught from the start. Again, Alice’s friends know her better than anyone. They know her eating habits, they see the signs of agitation and fear. Eventually, they figure it out, and something has to be done.
EVENTUALLY is the appropriate word. Alice, Darling takes its sweet time getting to the point where all of the women are on the same page, and it comes after many heated arguments, the hurtful kind that only people who know one another really well can have. After a while, though, it’s tough not to get frustrated at Alanna Francis’ script, which painstakingly drags everything out.
And yet, almost everything about the film feels genuine. Simon is a real dirtbag, the kind who hides it behind flowery words and empty gestures. He’s a chief gaslighter, covering up his verbal cruelty to Alice in such a way that she later defends him, “But he doesn’t hurt me, though.” Of course he does. Throughout all of this, we believe every interaction between the film’s only four characters. Kendrick’s Alice is a woman so beaten into submission that she’s become used to it. Every move Alice makes comes with the thought of Simon first, and how he’ll react to it…to her, once he finds out. Together with Mosaku and Horn, Kendrick has never been better in a non-comedic role, and the trio altogether are great. Carrick’s Simon is impressively charming and imposing at the same time. Nighy shoots him in a way that always seems like he’s looming over Alice, forcing her against a wall or into a cage.
A subplot involving a missing local girl feels airdropped from another movie, and like it was inserted to pad out the already-slim 90-minute runtime. Those minutes could’ve been better spent with the lead trio, whose believable friendship in Alice, Darling suggests that strength in numbers can be a way out for women trapped in abusive relationships.
Alice, Darling opens in select theaters on December 30th, nationwide in AMC Theatres on January 20th.