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Reviews - Hollywood Reporter

What Alice Found
By Frank Scheck
June 27, 2003 - Tribeca Film Festival

Bottom line: "What Alice Found" features a compelling performance by Judith Ivey.

NEW YORK -- The tale of a 19-year-old girl and her relationship with a middle-aged couple who introduce her to the world of prostitution, this low-budget indie, shot on digital video, features a compelling performance by Judith Ivey as a warm motherly woman who also happens to be a hooker and a pimp.

Modest in scope but sensitively written and acted, "What Alice Found" is the sort of little film for which an award like Sundance's Special Jury Prize for Emotional Truth, which it recently won, was invented. The film was also part of the lineup for this year's Tribeca Film Festival.

Making a compelling big-screen debut is Emily Grace as Alice, who at the film's beginning leaves her New Hampshire home on a road trip to join her friend at a Florida college. Her car breaks down shortly thereafter, and she's given a ride by a friendly couple, Sandra (Ivey) and Bill (Bill Raymond), who have plenty of room in their spacious and relatively luxurious motor home. Sandra and Bill treat the young Alice with an almost parental protectiveness, but their warmth and friendliness is tempered by the fact that they quickly attempt to have their guest join Sandra in her occupation as a hooker servicing the many truckers traveling the highways. Bill advertises their services on his CB radio, dubbing their vehicle the "Honey Bunny Wagon."

What in lesser hands might have been reduced to a television movie-style cautionary tale is rendered by director-screenwriter A. Dean Bell with far more complexity and ambiguity. The characterizations are particularly well-nuanced, with Sandra and Bill revealing a vulnerability that makes their exploitative treatment more understandable if not forgivable. And Alice herself is not simply an innocent victim ensnared in the machinations of a duplicitous couple but also a willing accomplice discovering her own sexual power.

There's a refreshing frankness to the film's treatment of its sordid subject matter that more than compensates for its technical limitations. The three performers inhabit their roles with, yes, an emotional truth that is bracing. This is particularly true of Ivey, who could have overdone Sandra's down-home aspects but instead subtly delineates the character's complex feelings and motivations. She's well-matched by Raymond, particularly superb in a scene where his new employee turns the sexual tables on Bill, and Grace, admirably subtle in her depiction of Alice's transformation.