Directed by Mary Nighy
Written by Alanna Francis
Anna Kendrick’s career has been full of some twists and turns and many lives, and thank goodness because she is one of her generations very best. After bursting onto the scene really with an Oscar nomination out of the gates with her turn in Up in the Air, Kendrick gained traction in franchise work with Twilight, then a string of under the radar performances before making another splash with the Pitch Perfect series of films. Her unique range has made her a hit in the aforementioned mainstream hits, while also being a brave actor capable of carrying her weight in any setting. And with Alice, Darling Anna Kendrick has perhaps delivered her best career performance in a very vulnerable, personal way, even if the film itself is likely to play further under the radar than perhaps it deserves.
A successful woman with everything she needs, Alice (Kendrick) is happier than she could imagine, right where she wants to be in life, or so it would seem. She has the perfect boyfriend in struggling British artist Simon (Charlie Carrick), and a loyal group of friends who are always there for her in Tess (Kaniehtiio Horn) and Sophie (Wunmi Mosaku). But perhaps Alice is merely imagining her happiness, trapped within a controlling, gaslighting relationship which is subtly forcing her to send bathroom selfies at a moments notice in order to satisfy, or pull her hair out with the stress of making Simon feel loved. Tess and Sophie notice the changes in Alice, inviting her out to a lake house girls vacation where, over the course of the week, Alice’s behavior and interest in a search for a missing local girl, come to a head, testing their strong friendship and testing Alice’s perspectives and dependencies on Simon.
Having not heard much about this film, even though it played TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival), I went into this viewing with little to no expectation, and quickly those expectations were underwhelmed. The film starts very sluggish, with director Mary Nighy showing us all of the obvious signs and story beats a film like this is expected to hit. Very on the nose. Likewise, Alanna Francis’ screenplay does little to add additional subtlety and finesse, creating dialogue that is very direct, obvious and to the point. However, this film transforms almost instantaneously when the three friends make their trek to the wilderness. Powered by Kendrick’s central performance, the ensemble slip into an immediate feeling of familiarity and strong bonds. This is no mistake, as Simon has been removed from the occasion in form and fixation. And yet his presence still looms over the getaway, testing the reserve and love shared by these longtime friends.
A film like this, if it had continued from its opening act, could very easily become a big, showy, over-the-top dramatic nightmare, but Nighy and her star show such restraint and beautiful brokenness. This restraint and understated tone sets the stage for Kendrick to deliver some of her best work to date. She inhabits Alice with such quiet anxiety, uncertainly and vulnerability. Alice has been enveloped in Simon’s machinations for so long, that she has lost herself, her true identity, and nobody sees this more than the people who know her best: her close friends. Likewise, Kaniehtiio Horn and Wunmi Mosaku deliver strong performances alongside Kendrick, supporting her star turn with their own strong, commanding, and loving performances. The ensemble evokes such incredible sympathy, their friendship is more realistic than just about anything you tend to see in media today. Their ability to call each other on their bullshit cuts through.
Films like Alice, Darling are the perfect salve for any year-end completist like myself, looking to fit in as many 2022 films as I can before closing the book on the year in film. The cram is often composed of a combination of Oscar-buzzy films, international and art house prestige, and big, loud studio movies. So when something as small and intimate as Alice, Darling comes along, and it gives a performer of Kendrick’s ability the part where she can really shine with character work, it’s a wonderful break from the norm, even if the content of the film is rather serious. Mary Nighy, in her debut feature film, shows a depth of understanding in her characters which gives promise to a young filmmaker, especially if she is capable of continuing to work with, and consistently get great performances out of, such wonderful actors.