Alice Synopsis: Alice (Keke Palmer), an enslaved person yearning for freedom on a Georgia plantation, escapes through the woods and stumbles through time into the year 1973. After she meets a disillusioned political activist (Common), she confronts the lies that kept her enslaved.
Writer/director Krystin Ver Linden strives for an ambitious debut with Alice. As an intriguing drama/revenge thriller hybrid inspired by the strife and cultural uprise of Black America, the film charts a narrative path that brims with promise. Unfortunately, Alice – both the character and film – exist only as intriguing concepts.
The screenplay falters from jump street. Ver Linden seeps audiences into the turmoil of slave-era cruelty, a decision that elicits more groans than potency from its trope-laden design. The plodding, 40-minute introductory chapter drags audiences into a state of misery without adding perspective to the traumatic period. Strong performances from Gaius Charles and Kenneth Farmer help humanize the steaks, but these segments never resonate above played-out contrivances.
Thankfully, Ver Linden cleverly twists expectations once Alice discovers 1970’s America. I give the writer/director high praise for her inventive concept. By juxtaposing the turmoils of slavery against a period of cultural rebirth, Alice sets the stage for a story of remarkable resiliency and empowerment.
None of the potential reaches its intended heights. The latter half suffers from a similarly surface-level approach, presenting thoughtful ideas without knowing what to say about them. Ver Linden favors the straight-forward pulp of her revenge premise rather than patient character-building, which significantly limits the film’s dramatic potential. The final product ends up feeling like an abridged pilot for what this story could accomplish, breathlessly racing to the finish line before the viewer even realizes the credits are rolling.
Alice feels similarly routine in terms of aesthetics. Ver Linden and Cinematographer Alex Disenhof frame everything with the same bland greyness. Even the blaxploitation-themed thriller subplot is dead on arrival, lacking the catharsis or stylistic vibrancy to enrichen the pastiche.
Even with the missteps, parts of Alice still compel. Keke Palmer emanates vulnerability and instant gravity as Alice, elevating underwritten material through her sheer presence alone. It’s a performance that feels deserving of a superior film, but I am sure this will put many on notice about Palmer’s skillset. Common also adds his usual conviction as Alice’s former activist friend.
Alice never elevates past its high-concept premise, ultimately radiating with the imperfections of its first-time filmmaker. That said, I credit Ver Linden and company for taking a thoughtful and sincere conceptual risk here. It certainly deserves more recognition than the similar-themed dud Antebellum.
Alice opens in theaters on March 18.
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