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Reviews - Screen
What Alice Found
By Denis Seguin
07 February 2003
A well-matched combination of intelligent drama
and understated performances, What Alice Found is a gem. Much more
than the sum of its parts, it explores the emotional dynamics of
a young woman who thinks she’s found the ideal mother and
then discovers she’s not the ideal daughter. Strong critical
and audience reaction on the festival circuit - at Sundance it received
a Special Jury Prize for "emotional truth" -- should lead
to specialised theatrical success, luring fans of such DV fare as
The Celebration and Italian For Beginners. Best possible scenario:
an Oscar nomination for veteran actress Judith Ivey.
Writer/director A Dean Bell and producer cinematographer Richard
Connors have used digital video to great effect, and not just for
technical and budgetary reasons. What Alice Found looks unremarkable
but this is part of its conceit: it appears as straight-forward
as it isn’t. The DV look is also integral to capturing the
homely characters and milieu. This Alice’s wonderland is a
series of truck stops and her looking-glass is a motor home The
story lulls the audience into a false sense of surety - it’s
hard not to think one has seen this story before - and then proceeds
to reverse each cliche.
Alice is a self-diagnosed loser who has left her
north-eastern state to visit a friend at college in Florida. Driving
south in her beaten-up car, she meets up with Sandra (Ivey) and
Bill (Raymond) a nice middle-aged couple in a motor home who express
concern about a young girl travelling alone. When Alice’s
car conveniently breaks down and her money goes missing, convention
dictates that these very nice people should in fact be up to no
good. Indeed, after a few days in the motor home, the truth comes
out: Sandra is a prostitute, Bill is her pimp and together they
work America’s truck stops.
Alice is appalled but also intrigued and, being
penniless, sorely tempted. She gives into temptation and turns her
first trick, nauseated by the process but dazzled by the easy money.
Soon she is part of the team, entrusting her earnings to Sandra.
Cue the downward spiral.
But the craft of this story is in its subversion of expectation
and the superbly developed relationship of Alice and Sandra. Newcomer
Grace is ideally cast - unhappy but not morbidly so, streetwise
but gullible, desperate to be anywhere but here, anybody but herself.
Ivey is a wonder, capturing the inner strength of a faded Southern
belle who might otherwise be dismissed at a glance. She reveals
Sandra as a smooth operator, a professor of human nature blessed
with a pragmatic entrepreneurial spirit. Delivered in a package
of trashy folksy charm with a core of steely resolve and a hint
of menace, it is an Oscar worthy performance.
Throughout the first and second acts, brief, well-placed
flashbacks paint Alice’s back-story and suggest the inciting
incidents that triggered her escape - her envy of the college girl
and the disappointment of being left behind, the embarrassment of
having a mother who works in her high-school cafeteria, the temptation
of an envelope of cash at the grocery where she worked; even her
ability to handle a gun. By the end of the film these flashbacks
say more about what Alice has failed to appreciate in her life than
they do about her destiny.
Raymond is equally fine in the sole supporting role. Otherwise the
remaining characters are seen much like the passers-by on roadtrips,
fleetingly and then gone.
Prod co: Factory Films/Highland Entertainment
Int'l sales: Gotham Sales
Prods: Richard Connors
Art dir: Bryce Williams
Ed: Chris Houghton
Main cast: Judith Ivey, Bill Raymond, Emily Grace