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Reviews - Entertainment Today

What Alice Found
by Brent Simon

Winner of a Special Jury Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, writer-director Dean Bell’s What Alice Found is a simple little road movie with restorative powers. Vacuumed free of any indie scene smugness or self-satisfaction, the film charts its central figure’s transformation from emotionally impoverished waif to sexually charged, psychologically emboldened young woman while also along the way serving as an estimably poker-faced, non-blinking examination of a closeted American subculture. Bell’s directorial touch eschews either flowery technical gimmickry or dense, mood-crafting prowess—he’s not likely to be heralded as an auteur—but his film commands your respect nonetheless because you’re peering into an intimate snow globe travelogue where everything feels native and relevant to the story being told.

The film starts with Alice (Emily Grace), a quiet young New Hampshire girl who, demoralized by what she views as a dead-end existence, gathers up some cash and her courage and heads south to Florida to visit an old high school friend. After her car craps out, retired couple Sandra (Tony Award winner Judith Ivey) and Bill (Bill Raymond) take pity on her and invite her to join them in their RV. Since they’re heading south themselves and Alice is short on money, the couple even invites her to save on bus fare and ride with them. Alice acquiesces, and intercut flashbacks clue us in to her reasons for leaving and the interpersonal threads she left dangling when she left. Soon, though, Alice comes to understand her good Samaritans’ circuitous route and why Bill announces the arrival of the “Honey Bunny Wagon” at every approaching truck stop. Has she gotten herself in over her head?

Shot on a shoestring on digital video, what Bell’s movie most has going for it is a fine merging of means, material and ego. Ergo, What Alice Wants is a film for which, non-cynically, the word “appealing” might be the very best descriptor — it holds your interest nonchalantly but firmly, the encircling hand-grasp of a parent protecting an oblivious child as they cross the street. If Grace is a bit of a stretch to pass as a teenager—and thus the movie loses out a bit on its emotional pegging of her as a wide-eyed innocent—she still delivers a solid performance, notable for its measured tones and refusal to give in to histrionic showiness. Ivey, meanwhile, is simply sublime; her superb turn is easily worthy of a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination should members actually be moved to fulfill their electoral obligation and sift beyond simply the most aggressively lobbied candidates.

Hollywood often likes to pummel us about the head and shoulders with the big and the dramatic, but “coming-of-age” stories are—or should be, at least—about magnifying small and subtle shifts in attitudinal gradation and showing us the impetus for this change, and for a movie built chiefly around one event, What Alice Found blissfully retains a measure of ambiguity even as we see and feel how it will affect Alice further down the road. I’m not sure that I can ever remember basking, in the moment, in the warm glow of a leap in maturation, and I can’t recall any friend or acquaintance regaling me with a similar story of chin-stroking, Doogie Howser -esque personal growth either, no matter how sensational a night, day or week we’d had. Kudos to Bell and What Alice Found for playing its hand quietly and powerfully. Visit for more information. (Factory Films/Highland Entertainment, R)