4 out of 5 stars

Anna Kendrick (A Simple Favor) gives a career-best leading performance in this stark drama about a young woman called Alice (Kendrick) trapped in an abusive relationship with arrogant artist Simon (Charlie Carrick), peeling back the layers of toxicity and gaslighting.

We meet Alice on an evening out with her two best friends, Tess (Kaniehtiio Horn) and Sophie (His House‘s Wunmi Mosaku). She’s nervous, fiddling with her fingers, and glassy-eyed—far from the vibrant young woman her friends once loved. From the opening scene, Kendrick proves a master of micro emotions, as we’ve never met Alice before but can tell something is off…

Simon’s behaviour is introduced to us through microaggressions, as he has a huge ego and only Alice can tend to it. He’s a mid-rate artist who never seems to get enough praise for his work. If he’s not reminded of his genius constantly, something bad could happen… and Alice knows this. This film reminds viewers that abusers don’t have to be burly boxers, they can be creatives and words are as damaging as fists.

It’s Tess’s 30th birthday, a topic to be approached softly, and the trio is set to go on a trip together. Simon doesn’t approve of this friendship, so Alice lies about it being a work trip, rehearsing this conversation on the way to meet him. As soon as she’s in the car with her friends, we can see her spirit visibly lift. She can’t quite commit herself to the group, obsessively staring at her phone in case she needs to reply to her boyfriend. When the truth begins to unravel, her friends decide to stage an intervention.

Alice doesn’t see herself as a victim of abuse, probably because he never physically harms her. When she comes across a poster of a missing girl presumed to be killed by someone close to her, Alice can’t shake her connection to the strange woman. It may seem like a convoluted side plot which includes Alice joining the search party, but it’s a smart narrative tool to help Alice come to the realisation that she could soon end up the same way.

The trio on their trip have an authentic chemistry and speak like real women would with each other, something that is missing from many other scripts. The singalong of Lisa Loeb’s “Stay” is a bit too earnest, especially on the second round, but their late-night fun is just the right amount of messiness for professional women in their late-twenties. The tension is never overplayed and never indulges in dramatics. It’s refreshing to see a group of women on-screen arguing and processing trauma without screaming and wailing.

In Alice, Darling, director Mary Nighy (daughter of actor Bill Nighy) delicately exposes the experience of being trapped in a relationship with a narcissist. Simon has convinced Alice she’s a bad person which has made Alice become a bad friend: she’s sullen, unfriendly, and rude to the people who care about her. This is all portrayed through subtle writing and a mesmerising performance from Kendrick.

The screenplay by Alanna Francis (The Rest of Us) focuses on the tiny, haunting details of gaslighting which could have made for a very bland movie without Kendrick’s masterful performance. While promoting Alice, Darling, Kendrick has been candid about the real-life experience that inspired her performance. Her affinity with the material is evident in the authenticity of Alice’s dead-eyed look, at the way she dissociates in social groups. She spends most of the movie looking like she wants to crawl inside herself and disappear forever. It’s a performance that will stay with you long after the credits roll.

Nighy does, at times, resort to a few of the well-worn tropes of depressed women submerged in the bath and staring out the window as the car radio drowns out her worries. These well-worn shots aside, Alice, Darling feels like an authentic depiction of domestic abuse. It’s not always physical fights and women cowering with bruises, it’s sometimes a person telling their partner they should diet, that they are not good enough, that they are a bad person.

Alice, Darling feels like an important film that might just save a life if shown to the right person.


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Cast & Crew

director: Mary Nighy.
writer: Alanna Francis.
starring: Anna Kendrick, Kaniehtiio Horn, Charlie Carrick & Wunmi Mosaku.