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Reviews - NY Newsday

What Alice Found
Star Turns and Turning Tricks on the Road

By Gene Seymour
December 5, 2003

(R). Blue-collar New England girl (Emily Grace) runs away to Florida. Finds trouble. Gets picked up by a couple of retirees (Judith Ivey, Bill Raymond) who seem nice and square. More trouble. Director-writer A. Dean Bell's road movie is crafty in every good sense of the word. And it's nice to see the veteran Ivey get a proper showcase for her subtly radiant gifts. 1:37 (vulgarities, sexuality, nudity). At select theaters.

Week after week, so many eager-to-please independent movies get tossed into New York's smaller theaters that one is tempted to think of them as a glut on the marketplace. Then a movie like "What Alice Found" comes along that softens your jaded impulses. It's not that there's anything groundbreaking or extraordinary about director-writer A. Dean Bell's low-budget road movie. But it so deftly tweaks your presumptions at every turn that you feel, by the end, that you've traveled somewhere - and not just along several southbound interstates.

A prize-winning entry at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Bell's story wouldn't be out of place in a college literary quarterly specializing in "dirty" American realism. Alice (Emily Grace) is a working- class New Hampshire girl who's got a nowhere life and is staring at a nowhere future while her best friend from high school has gone off to Miami to study marine biology. Sounds good to Alice, so she jumps in her decrepit Ford Escort and heads south. For some reason, she keeps looking in her rearview mirror for signs of state troopers.

Inevitably (perhaps), Alice's car has a seizure and she's offered a lift aboard a cozy recreational vehicle by a honey-voiced middle-aged woman named Sandra (Judith Ivey) and her truculent Army retiree husband, Bill (Bill Raymond). At first, Alice thinks she's found a cushy temporary home with some sweet old "born-agains" from the South. She does think it strange, though, that Sandra wants to play dress up with her at various stops and, at one point, asks if she's a virgin.

Then, after an abortive stop at a trailer park, Alice is jolted to discover that her fellow travelers make up a down-home mom-and-pop prostitution ring working the truck stops. Sandra assures Alice that she doesn't necessarily have to take part in the game. Not if she doesn't want to. Still, Alice is all too aware that she doesn't see this flow of income at the convenience store she worked in back home.

What throws Alice off further is that Sandra, for all the dubious morality of her actions, seems to have more common sense about life and love than just about any other grown-up she's ever known. The older woman is, in many ways, a tricky case study and proves a worthy vessel for Ivey, one of America's finest stage actresses, to show her stuff. She weaves elemental guile and shady sensuality into what would, in lesser hands, be a flamboyant stereotype. Grace's Alice is well-matched with Ivey's Sandra. Her callowness is set off by some not-so-innocent traits of her own.