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Alice, Darling movie review & film summary (2023)

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Mary Nighy’s feature debut “Alice, Darling” is a straightforward drama about getting caught in the undertow of a bad romance. The telltale signs seem obvious to outsiders like her friends and viewers, but for Alice, she’s still performing the mental gymnastics of justifying his controlling demands to her body, attention, and time and interpreting them as love and affection. She’s dug into a defensive position and unable to see the damage Simon’s behavior has caused her, how she fears asking for time for herself, how suffocatingly he clings to her skin.

Nighy balances these perspectives as generously as she can. Almost every exchange or nervous glance from friend to friend or lover to lover feels like a hostage negotiation. What should be tender moments between the young couple are often cruel rounds of verbal and emotional abuse. The tension of the situation is baked within every confrontational staging between the pair or how detached Alice looks and feels from her friends. Even when Simon isn’t physically there in the scene, the fallout of his presence is visually evident. It’s isolated Alice from those who truly care about her. 

The murkiness in Alice’s relationship carries over to the film’s aesthetics thanks to cinematographer Mike McLaughlin. Alice’s world looks a little less bright than the one her friends live in, as if she only ever ventures out on overcast days. There’s a warm tone to the girlfriend’s cabin trip to the woods, but something still looks off, like the peace and serenity of the location are somehow missing. In a move that overcomplicates the already tense drama at hand, Alanna Francis’ script adds an element of danger to their trip through a subplot about a missing young woman. Alice becomes fixated on her, perhaps fatalistically so, and the mystery becomes an excuse for Simon to escalate his control over her. Maybe it’s to be a cautionary tale for Alice or something to entice her to escape, but none of this quite pans out as effectively as her narrative journey with her friends. 

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