- Movie Rating -

Alice (2022)

| March 18, 2022

Alice is a terrible movie.  It’s crude, obvious, badly written and filmed so awkwardly that it loses the momentum of its biggest surprise.  And yet . . . and yet!  Underneath all of the amateurish nonsense lies a potentially good movie.

The film is the latest product of the new black visibility but one would be hard-pressed to find a film that undoes the goals of that noble effort.  It was directed by first time director Krysten Ver Linden whose notion of the black experience (based on this script) is not really a narrative so much as a checklist of both slave epics and blaxploitation movies.  It’s a mixture of genres that never bother to explain themselves and are resolved so conveniently that they cut off before they are even finished.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let me dig into why this movie doesn’t work.  The film starts off in what looks like a side-quel to 12 Years a Slave.  We meet Alice (Keke Palmer), a slave working on a plantation down in Georgia during the old Antebellum days.  She is the favorite of the plantation overseer, a sweaty old bastard named Bennett (Jonny Lee Miller) who keeps Alice close to him and even taught her to read so she could read books to him at night before he rapes her – which is only suggested in the dialogue.

If you’re seeing shades of the story of Patsey and Epps in 12 Years a Slave, then you’re on the right track.  The problem with this movie is that Ver Linden wants to deal with slavery without dealing with slavery.  The foulest stench of this chapter of history is left quietly off the table.  For instance, the n-word (which you would expect) is left out in favor of the word “domestics.”  And the violence both sexual and otherwise are pitched at the level of your average cop show.  This director seems to want to have slavery but never deal with it in all it’s brutality.  She seems to have missed the point that omitting the grimmest details of slavery is bringing shame to the greatest blight on our country’s history.

But, alas, it only gets worse from here.  If you’ve seen the trailer than you’ve already been privy to the film’s biggest surprise.  And if you haven’t then I’ll issue a hearty spoiler warning.

Alice escapes the plantation and while running through the woods, runs right out onto a semi-busy highway.  In a move that also didn’t work for Shamalan, she runs right into the modern era.  It’s 1973 and after she is nearly flattened by a delivery truck, the helpful driver named Frank (Common) picks her up and drives her to the hospital.

How Alice got to 1973 is never really explained, nor is how she gets back.  The motivations and helpful ironies that help her traverse the busy world of the 1970s might as well have come with a diagram.  Frank takes her back to his place and it is convenient that while digging through his things, that he use to be a Black Panther and that the first box that she opens among his things contains clippings of only the most important events in recent black history.

It is also convenient how well she is able to adapt despite having no understanding of television, telephones, automobiles or institutions.  When she makes a sudden transformation from frightened “domestic” to an Angela Davis-like revolutionary, you might wonder if you’ve missed something.

The problem is that there is no glue to tie any of this together.  No explanation of how or why anything is happening.  No connective tissue that pulls Alice into the 20th century.  It’s frustrating.  There are more holes in this script than a block of swiss cheese.

That’s a shame because there is an idea here.  Ver Linden seems to want to get to the next point without ever having to work for it.   I can give her points for a level of ambition, it’s the execution that gives me a headache.  Let’s put it this way, she was the winner of the Directors-to-Watch prize at the Palm Springs Film Festival in January, which basically just proves that the voting body is just as confident as everyone else that she’s capable of better films than this.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2022) View IMDB Filed in: Action, Drama