NEW YORK – Anna Kendrick is reclaiming her story.
The Oscar-nominated actress is earning career-best reviews for “Alice, Darling” (exclusively in AMC theaters nationwide Friday), playing a young woman trapped in an emotionally abusive relationship. Kendrick, 37, signed on to the project two years ago, as she was coming out of a long-term relationship with a psychologically abusive ex.
Looking back on that experience, “it does feel like something was stolen (from me),” Kendrick says. “Getting trapped in that loop of trying to make (the relationship) better, and figure out a way to fix it, meant that I was also sacrificing more and more of myself.
“I was self-abandoning over and over and over again, and something was very lost for a long time. I’m still getting it back.”
‘Alice, Darling’ depicts the emotional toll of an abusive relationship
The dramatic thriller follows Alice (Kendrick) as she takes a weekend getaway with her two best friends, Sophie (Wunmi Mosaku) and Tess (Kaniehtiio Horn). Alice is visibly uneasy and tense throughout the trip, after lying to her controlling boyfriend, Simon (Charlie Carrick), about her whereabouts. Tess and Sophie glean that something isn’t right with their friend, and try to help Alice recognize her abusive situation.
Alice had visible bruises in an earlier version of Alanna Francis’ script. But Kendrick, who also executive produced the film, felt it was important to show that not all abuse leaves physical marks. She imagined what it would be like to watch this movie if she was still in that toxic relationship.
“I really didn’t want to make a film that I would have gone, ‘Oh, well it’s not as bad as this movie. Maybe I’m just dealing with normal, healthy conflict,'” Kendrick says. “It’s a bold thing to just stay with the main character’s experience, rather than spoon-feeding an audience, ‘Here’s the abuse you can point to.’ To just look at the (psychological) effect that it’s having on a person and trust that it’s abusive.”
Instead, the film portrays the casually sinister ways that Simon messes with Alice’s head. He closely monitors where she goes and what she eats, and guilts her for grabbing drinks with friends.
“Those daily things add so many layers to the more obvious moments of abusive behavior,” Kendrick says. When someone is angry or violent, “sometimes it’s easier to go, ‘OK, this has crossed a line and this isn’t about me. This is about you.’ And with those smaller moments that are so insidious, I feel like, ‘There’s a judgment and a superiority here. But if I call it out, I’m going to get told that I’m imagining it.’ ”
For Kendrick, accuracy was ‘crucial’ yet challenging at times
Like Alice, Kendrick had good friends to lean on during her past relationship. But even then, she never painted the full picture.
“I kind of sprinkled all the gory details into conversations with different friends,” Kendrick recalls. “Because I knew that if I told the whole thing to one person, that person would be like, ‘Dude, run.’ ”
With the help of therapy, Kendrick was eventually able to acknowledge the abuse for what it was. Although she keeps details vague, a “huge turning point” was when she found “black-and-white evidence” that her partner was gaslighting her.
“I had every benefit in starting my recovery and it’s still so hard,” Kendrick says, holding back tears. “I really don’t know how people do it, just having to go, ‘Well, I don’t have any evidence but I have to trust myself.’ It makes me want to cry.”
The film’s director, Mary Nighy, says she was most impressed with how “honest and emotionally available” Kendrick was during filming.
“I’m sure for some people, it would have been too difficult to revisit,” Nighy says. “She was very clear about wanting to provide a warning to others who might be experiencing emotional abuse, and therefore the accuracy of the film became crucial – even if it must have been hard to explore at times.”
Ditching her perkiness, and trusting herself as an actress
Beyond the film’s personal resonance, Kendrick also saw “Alice, Darling” as a chance to stretch herself beyond the peppy, often musical characters she’s played in “Pitch Perfect” and “Trolls.” The movie is light on dialogue, with long shots of Alice panicking over texts from Simon and worrying that he might show up.
Sometimes on screen, “I’ll maybe do a little too much,” Kendrick admits. “Because I’m like, ‘Well, I have to make it interesting because I don’t trust that I can just exist and be compelling, or that anyone would invest in that character unless I’m sweating to be charismatic.’ So frankly, feeling a little boring in the movie for stretches of time made me pretty uncomfortable. But it was kind of this weird parallel to trusting that I’m enough and that that would translate on screen.”
Since the movie premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last fall, Kendrick has been asked to relive past trauma in countless interviews such as these. The experience so far has been mostly positive, she says.
“Making the movie, being around people who’ve had similar experiences, and being really open about it, I don’t find triggering at all. It feels very warm and safe,” Kendrick says. “The only thing that’s felt icky is just being in an environment where (someone is) just the tiniest bit dismissive. It’s nobody’s job to come in and meet me where I’m at, but that’s why I’m trying to just make sure that I’m only talking about it in a space and in a way that feels OK.”