A selection from the 2019 SXSW Film Festival, Alice is supercharged by a great turn from Emilie Piponnier as the title character. However, it is very lacking in a dramatic and narrative sense. It is about Alice (Piponnier), who finds out the hard way that she is broke and on the verge of homelessness. Her credit card payment gets declined, then a trip to the bank is shocking in every way. The foreclosure process has already started on her home, where she lives with her son, Jules (Jules Milo Levy Mackerras), and her husband, Francois (Martin Swabey). They owe 77,480 euros—not only that, in just three weeks time, their home will be auctioned off to the highest bidder.
To add insult to injury, Francois seems to have completely ghosted Alice and their son. “Maybe he felt something was missing at home,” Alice’s mom suggests in a completely rude way. She seems to imply Alice is in the wrong even though he stole everything and ran away. The bank will not give her a loan because Francois has completely tarnished their name.
Alice’s only choice to make money is to turn toward prostitution. She fell into it as a solution by calling a number her husband left behind only to realize it’s actually an escort service. Millionaires and billionaires pay by the hour, and the agency Alice discovers will only take 30% of her earnings. Alice needs just 7,000 euros in order to push the foreclosure from occurring. In the best parts of Alice, we follow the strange hijinks and sexual escapades of the title character. Naked massages, snapping condoms, and weird old men, oh my! Alice justifies it by raking in all those euros. “I always think of the money—lots and lots of money.”
The missteps here are many. For me, the biggest one is when Francois eventually returns home with little compassion for Alice’s situation. Alice becomes too ensnared in custody battle drama, straying away from the most captivating turns from the first half. It becomes less about selling Alice’s services for money and more about the mental dysfunction and shortcomings of Francois himself.
Stricter focus on character study could have been a great way to go, and yet, something is missing. I could not bring myself to care about Alice or her family, mainly because it is obvious from the beginning where the story is headed. When you think of a typical film festival selection as a general audience member, Alice checks just about every indie box there is. Aside from that central Piponnier turn, Alice is a serviceable drama as long as you are not expecting to be wowed.
Alice sells itself to VOD on Tuesday, July 20th.