THE STORY – Alice (Keke Palmer) spends her days enslaved on a rural Georgia plantation restlessly yearning for freedom. After a violent clash with plantation owner Paul (Jonny Lee Miller), Alice flees through the neighboring woods and stumbles onto the unfamiliar sight of a highway, soon discovering that the year is actually 1973. Rescued on the roadside by a disillusioned Black activist named Frank (Common), Alice uncovers the lies that have kept her enslaved and the promise of Black liberation.
THE CAST – Keke Palmer, Common, Jonny Lee Miller & Gaius Charles
THE TEAM – Krystin Ver Linden (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 100 Minutes
By Ema Sasic
Director Krystin Ver Linden tackles an unbelievable story in her debut film, “Alice,” but doesn’t quite deliver as well as one would hope with the topic at hand. In the film, a young Black woman escapes slavery only to find that the rest of the world is living in the 1970s – more than 100 years since the Emancipation Proclamation. If this story sounds somewhat familiar, you might be thinking about the 2020 horror film “Antebellum,” in which Janelle Monáe’s character was kidnapped and enslaved on a 19th-century plantation. While “Alice” is a slightly stronger story, it doesn’t spend nearly enough time on its most complex and what should be empowering moments.
The film begins in what appears to be 19th-century rural Georgia. Alice (Keke Palmer), her secret husband Joseph (Gaius Charles), and her family members are enslaved on Paul’s (Jonny Lee Miller) plantation, and many familiar moments from this time in America’s history play out. Escapes are attempted, people are brutally punished, and rape is common. Of course, Paul doesn’t believe he’s doing anything wrong and constantly says he treats his “domestics” very well, but things don’t seem right in this place, and there are hints that there might be a whole other world beyond the plantation. When Alice escapes, she finds herself face-to-face with that new reality when she almost gets hit by cars on a highway.
Frank (Common) rescues her and informs her that it’s 1973. Alice is rightfully confused and asks strange questions like if Frank’s free or enslaved. He drops her off at a nearby hospital but goes back for her once he realizes she’ll end up in a sanatorium. Instead, he takes her to his house and leaves out several items such as magazines and records to see if it jogs her memory. Left alone, Alice quickly realizes that she’s been living a lie her entire life. With newfound rage inside, she sets out to get her revenge.
This film should be so empowering, but it falls flat. Within a couple of hours, Alice, looking through books and news articles, learns all she needs to know about slavery, emancipation, and the Civil Rights Movement. Not to mention she somehow figures out how to use a phonebook and phone and calls up her former plantation owner’s ex-wife. If someone blasted a century into the future, I’m pretty sure it would take them way more time to adjust and figure out what the hell is going on rather than a one-day study session. The trauma one would begin to process would be too much to bear, but Alice adjusts quickly. There’s no way someone wouldn’t be shocked beyond words with all of this information, and the way it’s all portrayed doesn’t feel real. Instead, it seemed like a rush to the finish line, and any depth in the film was sacrificed. At just 100 minutes, “Alice” would have desperately benefited from extra time.
Palmer carries the film from start to finish and commits to this woman’s journey with what she’s given, while I wish there was more for Common to do. Through newspaper articles that Alice digs up, we learn that Frank was involved with the Black Panther Party and the Civil Rights Movement, but he’s put all of that behind him due to unfortunate events. When Alice presents him with the opportunity to help free her enslaved relatives at the plantation, he doesn’t seem keen on the idea. His reactions don’t seem believable, and it was a missed opportunity for a truly developed, strong character.
There’s a great moment when Alice, taking inspiration from Diana Ross and Pam Grier, sheds the past and embraces the future through her hair and clothing. It would have been significantly stronger if the film had explored who Alice decided to become with her freedom and new life. As it stands, “Alice” misses the mark in a few disappointing ways, but Palmer’s performance is not one of them.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Keke Palmer delivers a strong performance that carries the entire film.
THE BAD – The film doesn’t focus enough on what should be its most empowering moments, and there’s also no attention to the trauma one would endure if this happened to them. Common’s character is not fleshed out enough.
THE OSCAR PROSPECTS – None