What Alice Found
review by Elias Savada, 26 December 2003

A Special Jury Award "for artistic merit and emotional truth" at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival and an Official Selection at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, A. Dean Ball's second feature as director (after 1995's Backfire!, a Big Apple fire department spoof with Robert Mitchum in one of his last roles) stars Tony-winning actress Judith Ivey as a hard shouldered, warm hearted floozie.

Before we get to Ivey's character, we meet Alice Cahill (newcomer Emily Grace), a naïve young thing heading from Milford, New Hampshire to Florida to visit her increasingly presumptuous college friend Julie. Self-emancipated from her career in fast food and dreaming of a perhaps unrealistic future in marine biology, she packs her hopes in a plastic bag, and tosses them in her rusting out Ford. Alas, the stupid kid leaves cash in her open car at a rest stop.

Wherein the overly friendly, aging Southern belle Sandra Evans (Ivey) and her seeming saint of a husband Bill (Bill Raymond) help the girl to a ride in their RV after her car has reportedly been vandalized by some redneck (perhaps the pea-brained one who flaunted his tongue at her on the highway; she flashed her finger back). Yeah, maybe it's a ruse. Maybe not. Let's not spoil it for you. But the Evans, retired and roaming the countryside, wash the bad luck off Alice's roadside distraction, while she spins them Cinderella tales of a fabricated idyllic past.

A few six-packs later, an inquisitive highway cop and some dropped pants ultimately get Alice's thinking rattled. There's more than one person with confused signals, and Alice grows up a whole lot before the morning sun rises.

Director-writer Bell fitfully fills in Alice's reasons for leaving her New England wonderland, popping memories at us as Alice recalls them. Her best friend's gone; her divorced mom has a put down for every expectation she's ever had; her sleazy boss likes to pat her rump; an invisible dad has abandoned his family; Alice's blue-collar, gun-toting boyfriends are bums. The list goes on. Food coupons don't help her build self esteem, but Alice's makeover, courtesy of her new friends, sure does.

Bell came up with the idea for What Alice Found in the late 1980s, after having read a news item about a highway couple conning a young woman. The script was finished in 1995, financing set in 2000, and then 9/11 brought the project tumbling back to square one. Perhaps a good thing, as the modest budget for shooting digital video might have been better funded by the longer-than-expected wait for the production schedule to gel. The feature can't and shouldn't be compared to the mega-million studio films opening on thousands of screens. It's much more personal and intimate. Adds Bell, "We felt the tough, pragmatic, low resolution look of DV complemented the themes and accurately captured the film's road trip narrative." I felt the pacing could have been tightened and some of the dialogue overlapped, but it doesn't detract from the story. In working with his cast in a video verité style, the director isn't reluctant to show his actors in full frontal, and they're not hesitant to reveal themselves.

Emily Grace's turn as an ugly duckling turned smart-looking cookie is a sly performance that grows on you. Her Alice is strictly of proletarian origin, yet she eventually gets herself street savvy to the goings-on for which Sandra is primping her. The low-cut dress, the new coif, the gussying up. With each new layer of makeup, Alice's curiosity quotient is raised. She hardens, too. "Your (grown) daughter know…what you do?" is slung at her chaperone more as a derogatory statement than a question.

As for "mom" and "pop," these are some highly unusual job descriptions for fifty-somethings (my contemporaries, good grief): whore and pimp. Ivey's slant on her character is that God gave her (i.e., woman) the physical goods to please man (more than one in this case), and she's happy as a clam to talk about money, sex, marriage. I just love the way she unceremoniously dresses the part. All she expects from Alice is something in return. (Something more than a simple thank you.) Despite Sandra's unorthodox occupation, she's more than happy to casually and bluntly discuss the trade's trials and tribulations with Alice over a game of miniature golf. You're inclined to forget what she's doing is illegal. Still, the penniless Alice is intrigued by the hourly rates and the nomenclature used to describe the various service offerings.

What Alice Found redefines the term recreational vehicle. As Susan says in her sly Southern drawl, "I could tell you some stories," you think, yes indeed. Here is a humorous, matter-of-fact, how-to, road trip film for the unwanted. Ivey is totally believable as the earth-mother/teacher.

There's something fresh and honest here. Yeah, repugnant and progressively grotesque, too. Alice's makeup changes her so much that a convenience store clerk can't recognize her when proofing (for an antacid?) from her driver's license. This is not a vocation every teenage girl should happen into, even if such roadside attractions as Bill and Sandra come across as God's honest children. Still, anyone who espouses safe sex with such Southern charm and frankness should at least have a movie made about them and their honey bunny wagon.

For Alice and what she found, the road to Miami is paved with confusion, and built somewhere between a rock and a hard place. Epitaph: Don't necessarily judge people by what they do, but by who they are.

Written and
Directed by:

A. Dean Bell

Judith Ivey
Bill Raymond
Emily Grace
Jane Lincoln Taylor
Justin Parkinson
Tim Hayes

R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult







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