What Alice Found

(USA - 2003)

by Mike Lorefice

Cast: Emily Grace, Judith Ivey, Bill Raymond
Genre: Drama
Director: A. Dean Bell
Screenplay: A. Dean Bell
Cinematography: Richard Connors, Edwin Martinez, Wyche Stublefield
Composer: -

“Everybody's got to pay the bills, baby” - Sandra

A small town girl perpetually haunted by her parents lack of funds, her undereducated mother flipping burgers in the school cafeteria a daily reminder of the families inadequacy, Alice (Emily Grace) began escaping through fantasy and dishonesty at a tender age. Denying her mother as an attempt to renounce her class so she could continue hanging out with affluent friends, Alice begins to see herself getting stuck in the same rut. Looking to escape a lifetime of minimum wage slavery, she steals money from her minimum wage job and attempts to journey to Florida to join one of her rich friends who is now starting at the University of Miami.

Fantasizing of getting an education in the Sunshine State that will provide the opportunity to become a marine biologist, due to a dolphin show being her one life experience, she's basically in limbo, just spit out by a system that offers little in the way of further options. She can see what's planned for those with means, but for her it's just kind of a abyss, and one day she gets up the courage to start drifting with no real plan, role, or identity. Her situation obviously this makes her extremely susceptible, as she doesn't really have anything solid if and when she does find her way to Florida.

Her car, like everything else, isn't in the class with her friends, and when she has problems with it, an aging hospitable southern couple (Judith Ivey and Bill Raymond) swoop in and agree to let her accompany them to Florida in their RV.

Alice has never been doted over and spoiled before. Sandra & Bill are paternal and protective. They are old and seem to be religious, so she assumes they're harmless, but God is typically just a convenient front to manipulate others into doing their bidding. Alice wants to take care of herself, but it's all new to her, and she confuses easily, is generally uninspired, and has never felt like she belonged anywhere, so she go tends to go along with others and back down to avoid confrontation.

As Alice is on her own in the gritty truckstop world without any safety net and is not particularly willful or bright even in the most comfortable of circumstances, she allows her looks to be gradually transformed from a pure beauty to a whorish tart. The seduction is quite easy, as she's not used to being given anything, and has long understood the need to transform herself so she'll fit in and be accepted by those she “doesn't belong” with. If they say some red paint in her hair will make her look like Gillian Anderson, she isn't going to argue. At one point Alice tries to buy cigarettes and the cashier doesn't even believe it's the same sweet girl pictured in her driver's license.

Much of the power of the film is derived from the fact that Sandra & Bill transform Alice with the best intentions. Even when the couple misinterprets the bible to the point of believing Jesus gravitated toward whores because they were sexy rather than because he didn't believe anyone was unredeemable or should be an outcast, they don't seem to be altering reality simply, if at all, to help accomplish their own ends. But they are not stupid, in fact what's scary is they are good at this business and given their options it can seem the best opportunity for them as well as for Alice. So yes, they have been grooming her as new talent from the outset so they can make money from being her pimp, but that's simply what Sandra & Bill know - Bill being the enforcer and Sandra the talent - and how they live. As Sandra describes her work, “It's as easy as fallin' off a log. Just do what comes natural.”

Unlike the usual religious types we hear in the media who act as if everything is roses as long as your parents are forced to have you, Sandra & Bill actually have some understanding of class. They see Alice's old work (of the anyone can do this for next to no compensation variety) as slaving for just enough to marginally get by while her new work, lousy as it also is, is essentially her only opportunity to get ahead. Their fascist bargain, conform and you'll make money and get protection, is certainly somewhat seductive when Alice's cut for a few minutes work exceeds a weeks worth of asking "paper or plastic?" Unlike working for her old boss, at least in her new job she's consenting to being fondled, and being paid to provide that privilege.

What Alice Found is successful at keeping a balance between the good and bad aspects in all regards, at not allowing us to characterize any of the main players. Rather than focusing on the shady aspects of Sandra & Bill to disprove their good Samaritan label, and thus making the usual black and white film, A. Dean Bell subtly brings forth the characters similarities. They are simpletons who are struggling their way through a disappointing world that traps them in a no win situation of honest work for nothing or dishonest work for something, but with lots of complications. They lie about everything because they are afraid of the truth. It's all a manipulation, so we can't really feel sorry for Alice if they are better and more experienced at it than she is.

One thing that keeps the film from being predictable and cliché is Bell modifies the tone and mood regularly to depict the changing feelings of his wary but naïve young traveler. Much of the credit goes to Judith Ivey, who exceptionally offsets the motherly and the corrupting aspects of her character. The more you think you know her, the more she surprises you, and there's fun in trying to guess what is real and what is act because so much effort is put into denying the ability to pin her down. Still the film succeeds in showing the pointlessness of it all. Her whoring gets Alice noticed, but only by the least desirable forms of human excrement who harass and objectify her, and couldn't last 15 seconds in bed no matter how much or little time their partner spent on their looks.

Emily Grace is also quite impressive in her debut, and it's a shame she hasn't gotten more roles. Her “New Hampshire” accent is weird in an annoying way, but she does a great job of portraying an uninspired youth that just goes through life without anything really exciting her because she doesn't know how to attain anything she wants. Her best acting is in not acting, being completely indifferent to those around her because Alice does things for only one reason, her reason, and just can't be bothered putting any effort into anyone else's experience. She may not know what's for her, but she knows what isn't, and doesn't pretend. The sex scenes are just sad and desperate because she's a total dead fish, and the guys are so nervous and self centered they don't even seem to notice, much less care.

Alice stumbles through life because she has no experiences. All she has is her dreams, which never match her reality. The film sways with Alice's emotions, containing some genuinely funny moments like Sandra convincing Alice to stay on by giving her a night off with a good dinner that consists of tatter tots!

The biggest negative of the film is it doesn't look good because it was shot on DV. There is a benefit of DV in that the light equipment allows it to mostly be shot inside the RV. These sometimes dizzying results might not be the most desirable for the viewer, but depicting the somewhat sickening non stop motion of this claustrophobic life is certainly justifiable (unlike dogma which was just an irritating gimmick). It's not the most polished film, but the lack of polish is overall one of it's strengths, the people and locations seeming real, and thus lending credibility to the hard, humble, and not particularly hopeful lives the film is portraying.


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