The best thing that happens to Alice on a getaway week is when one of her closest friends takes her phone and keys so Alice can’t cut the trip short and go back to her boyfriend. It’s an intervention even though nobody is calling it that, and Alice needs that intervention because she is in a toxic relationship that is tearing her apart from the inside out — and it’s time for her to face that.
Anna Kendrick plays the title character in director Mary Nighy’s tightly constructed gut-punch of an emotional character study, and it is a performance of integrity and utter realness. With a dialogue-driven, authentic screenplay by Alanna Francis, an effectively poignant score by Owen Pallett and powerful work by Kendrick and Kaniehtiio Horn and Wunmi Mosaku as Alice’s best friends, this is the kind of intimate drama that sticks with you long after the viewing experience.
On the surface, Alice and her somewhat older boyfriend Simon (Charlie Carrick) seem to be in a loving, mutually supportive relationship — but there’s something insidious about the way Simon alternates gushing compliments with subtle and not-so-subtle digs at Alice, something alarming about the way Alice winds her hair around her fingers when she’s alone and seems borderline obsessed with calorie intake and body image.
One morning, when Simon goes into a coffee shop, Alice remains behind on the sidewalk, rehearsing the story she’s about to tell Simon: that she has to go away on a work trip, when in reality she’s going to a cabin in the country with her best friends Tess (Horn) and Sophie (Mosaku) to celebrate Tess’ 30th birthday. That Alice feels the need to lie about this trip speaks volumes about Simon’s control over her.
Despite the best efforts of Sophie and Tess, it’s nearly impossible for Alice to relax and enjoy the vacation. She becomes borderline obsessed with a local girl who has gone missing, spending an entire day joining the search party for someone she’s never met. When Alice loses an earring, she explodes in a fearful rage, because Simon gave her those earrings, and you don’t understand why this is such a big deal, nobody understands. Sophie and Tess try to get Alice to see she’s trapped in a horribly unhealthy relationship, but she keeps making excuses for Simon. He doesn’t hurt me, as in physical abuse, she tells them, as if that’s a ringing endorsement.
Director Nighy (daughter of actors Bill Nighy and Diana Quick) and editor Gareth C. Scales sprinkle in brief flashback scenes in which we see the poisonous emotional abuse Simon inflicts on Alice. (Carrick does fine work in an unforgiving role as a narcissistic man-child.) When Simon shows up unexpectedly at the cabin, all smiles and oily charm, “Alice, Darling” almost feels like a horror film — but Simon isn’t a killer, he’s an unrelenting jerk. We can only hope Alice, with the help of her two powerful, loyal, loving friends, can find the strength to send him packing.