What Alice Found

So what did Alice find in “What Alice Found”? Truck-stop whores, that’s what!

Seems plain-Jane 18-year-old Alice (Emily Grace) has fled her dull New Hampshire existence to move in with her best friend, who is just starting her first semester at the University of Miami. Alice is carrying a wad of cash, is evasive of police, and lies to strangers about her name; odds are good she made an error in judgment before she skipped town.

Her car breaks down and her money is stolen, but luckily a kindly middle-aged Southern couple she met at the last rest stop comes along to rescue her. They are the taciturn Bill (Bill Raymond) and his wife, Sandra (Judith Ivey), a gabby Kentuckian. They offer to take her to Florida in their RV, as they’re headed that direction, and Sandra meanwhile can help Alice fix up her hair, dress a little prettier, and build her self-confidence.

It sounds all sweet and happy — Alice finds a surrogate mother; Sandra gets a daughter — until we find out that Sandra is a truck-stop whore! They pull into a rest area every night, Bill finds her a customer or two, and when the RV’s a-rockin’, don’t come a-knockin’. Having learned that, and knowing of Alice’s dire financial situation, I’m sure it will not surprise you to discover that before long, Alice has joined the work force, too.

If only the movie were as good as its premise, which is so fraught with melodrama that it ought to have been either emotionally gripping (if done right) or hysterically funny (if done wrong). Instead, the film, written and directed by A. Dean Bell, remains detached from its rather harrowing subject matter — or what SHOULD be harrowing, rather — and instead just tells the story, almost glibly.

It does not help that with the exception of new-comer Emily Grace as the quietly intense Alice, the acting is almost uniformly mediocre, albeit earnest. Judith Ivey at first seems over-the-top and unbelievable as Sandra, and then she grows on you … and then we find out she’s a truck-stop whore, and all bets are off. I simply don’t believe Ivey as Sandra, nor Sandra as a prostitute. And I definitely don’t buy Bill as her pimp.

That said, the film does evolve so subtly into David Lynchian surrealism and sordidness that I remained curious to see where it would go next. It won a special jury prize at Sundance for “emotional truth,” but I find that ironic, because in my opinion it doesn’t have much. It neither glamorizes nor demonizes truck-stop whoredom; it merely depicts it, with little of the internal strife that ought to accompany it.

C+ (1 hr., 35 min.; R, some harsh profanity, a lot of strong sexuality, a few moments of nudity, brief strong sexual dialogue.)