Alice has been inspired by interesting stories of enslaved black Americans making an escape and discovering what era they’re currently living in. For the titular Alice (Keke Palmer), the same exposure happens when she runs away from her plantation and is startled when she doesn’t recognize the environment around her. With her “master” Paul (Jonny Lee Miller) hot on her heels, she meets working-class driver Frank (Oscar-winning musician Common) who takes her in and realizes the degree of personal and cultural negligence Alice has been subjected to.
Making a very ambitious filmmaking debut, writer/director Krystin Ver Linden pitches an intriguing and entertaining movie that also seems to be thin on its depiction of Alice’s depression and awakening. Unlike other dramas that place a primary focus on the dehumanization of slavery and the master-slave dynamics that ensue (12 Years A Slave, for instance), Ver Linden specifically knows what she wants to provide detail for. The vague portrayal sometimes works to the benefit of the movie (Ver Linden carefully addressing how Alice has been sexually assaulted by Paul), but the selective approach can sometimes feel like the movie is trying to take shortcuts to move the plot along. This approach has the potential to work in general, but the audience doesn’t want to feel like they’re being shortchanged on Alice’s experience or on Palmer’s strong performance.
Once Alice becomes aware of her power as an individual and turns to seek vengeance, the film’s tone purposely shifts to mirror the exploitation genre. Given the heavy subject matter and how campy the exploitation genre can be, Krystin Ver Linden surprisingly sticks this landing. The only noteworthy tonal friction happens towards the end when serious retributions have a hard time sticking with its homage-heavy funky musical score.
Despite feeling slight and rushed, Alice succeeds enough by connecting with the audience in genuine ways.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie