WHAT ALICE FOUND
(director/writer: A. Dean Bell; screenwriter: Richard Connors; cinematographers: Edwin Martinez/ Wyche Stublefield; editor: Chris Houghton; cast: Judith Ivey (Sandra), Bill Raymond (Bill), Emily Grace (Alice); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Richard Connors; Ventura Distribution; 2003)
“This amateur film looks more like a TV show than a movie, but at least does not fall off the cliff into violent melodrama like a similar themed Hollywood film would have.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This amateur film looks more like a TV show than movie, but at least does not fall off the cliff into violent melodrama like a similar themed Hollywood film would have. It’s a Sundance Special Jury Prize winner about truck-stop prostitution. A. Dean Bell’s shoestring budget dramatization shot on a grainy DV, not only never looks visually good but the story never seems believable or says something that is meaningful that isn’t a cliché. I got road sick early on and never recovered enough from being on this monotonous interstate trek to enjoy the ride. Never mind what Alice found (a title grabbed from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland), what I found was an awkwardly told story with limited acting from everybody but veteran stage actress Judith Ivey–whose menacingly teasing performance as the maternal moral corrupter of youth gives the film its only authority.
Alice (Emily Grace) is an underprivileged 18-year-old from Milford, New Hampshire, with a deadend job at a supermarket after graduating from high school, who impulsively robs her store’s till and goes to Miami in her old car. She’s in pursuit of her hazy dream of being a marine biologist and plans to join her privileged friend Julie who is a coed at the University of Miami. At a rest stop in Pennsylvania Alice discovers a hole in her wheel, and is befriended by a kindly southern middle-aged couple, Sandra and Bill (Judith Ivey and Bill Raymond), who repair the tire and tell her they saw a young man by her car. Later, while following Alice on the road for protection, her car breaks down and she’s rescued by the couple who offer her a lift in their RV and are willing to take her to Miami the slow way retired folks take to the highway. Alice soon becomes aware that the aging Sandra is a hooker working the truck-stops at night and the colorless retired army man, Bill, is her pimp. Out of curiosity Alice tries her hand at prostitution and gets $200 a pop, and gladly forks over $50 to the amiable retired couple who become her handlers and keep the money in the RV safe. This is more money in a half an hour than what Alice made for a week on her supermarket job, and Sandra shows her more kindness and the need to be greedy than her mom ever did.
The not so bright Alice is smart enough to sense some danger when the RV is in Alabama and in a hurry to go nowhere but to another truck-stop. Alice becomes frightened she’s being lured into a life of prostitution and wishes to leave the couple after rolling her eyes a few times to indicate she’s in deep trouble. What becomes of Alice, becomes the gist of the film. It’s a cautionary coming-of-age tale that leaves life’s lessons ambiguously up in the air and its heroine as a more experienced but sadder traveler.
REVIEWED ON 3/21/2005 GRADE: C +