Losing Alice review: Apple TV+ show lacks the depth that could've complemented its inventive stylistic flourishes
As a psychological drama, Losing Alice feels too self-conscious to be enjoyable or even provocative
Losing Alice opens with an eventful chance meeting between two strangers on a train. Sophie Marciano (Lihi Kornowski), a 24-year-old aspiring screenwriter bumps into her idol, 48-year-old movie director Alice Ginor (Ayelet Zurer) one night.
Her wide-eyed delight is palpable as she fangirls over Alice, furiously proving her devotion by listing the extent to which her work has affected her life. Like any artist suddenly thrust into the limelight, Alice isn’t entirely pleased about being recognised and by effect, having her solitude interrupted by the demands of a conversation. But her face betrays a hint of relief as well, as if to suggest she isn’t completely displeased at being acknowledged either.
Much of that could stem from the fact that Alice, once a promising director, is currently living out a life of creative ruin. Her provocative seminal film, Three-Quarter Moon, that displayed her singular vision is years behind her.
Today, she teaches, edits scripts, directs yoghurt commercials, and tends to her family. “I wondered where you disappeared to,” Sophie tells Alice with a good-natural curiosity. But it’s evident that the comment stings at Alice, simply because it becomes a stark reminder of how scant and unfullfing her output has become in the last few years. Zurer, a terrific actress, manages to wordlessly convey a lifetime worth of regret and lost potential in this sequence so compellingly that it almost feels like intruding on someone’s personal closet of embarrassment. It’s a cleverly-crafted sequence rife with lingering tension that is able to immediately relay that the eight-episode Israeli series is going to unfold like a labyrinthian psychological thriller.
For the most part, Losing Alice, now airing on Apple TV+, does stick to that brief. Soon after their initial introduction, Sophie reveals to Alice that not only has she written her first script but has also sent it over to Alice’s actor husband, David (Gal Toren). The script “blew his mind” so much that he has agreed to star in it, she tells Alice, kickstarting the process of infiltrating the personal and professional lives of the couple.
At first, Alice is just curious to read the script, partly for inspiration (she struggles while writing her own), and partly to just gauge competition. But she gradually descends into a pit of obsession, envy, and resentment once she reads it. Sophie’s film, titled Room 209 revolves around two best friends, one tragic death, and a doomed romantic relationship. As Alice finds herself more and more drawn toward investigating the real-life origins for the proceedings in the film, she starts locating the similarities between Sophie’s life and the film. Alice can’t help but ask the same question that Sophie had asked her on the train about Three-Quarter Moon: How much of it is real?
Created, written, and directed by Sigel Avin, the show derives its suspense largely from the missing puzzles that make up Sophie and the mystery behind her motivations and how they, in turn, affect the idyllic but stilted domestic lives of Alice and David.
By the third episode, the show takes a fascinating turn, moving from an erotic cat-and-mouse chase between two female artistes to becoming a love-triangle between an actor, a director, and a writer. As is expected, Alice is entrusted with the directorial reins of the film, much to the disapproval of her husband, who remains miffed with her for hijacking his “comeback” and Sophie casts herself in the film opposite David, playing the role of the young girl who embarks on a romantic relationship with her best friend’s older father. That in turn, further complicates the existing power dynamics to paint an often compelling albeit a little meandering, portrait of the costs of artistic fulfillment, the burden of moral integrity, and the dizzying obstacles to ambition. In that, Losing Alice has style to spare, relying on dream-like flashbacks, hallucinatory episodes, and scenes from the film’s shooting (Alice’s breakdown while shooting a neurotic scene in the crackling penultimate episode is goosebump-inducing) to add significant layers to the already complex story it is telling.
Like most thrillers, Avin too, uses the oldest trick in the book, that is the art of withholding information from the show’s protagonists and from the audience to evoke mystery and sustain interest. After the initial few episodes, that turns out to be a one-trick pony, only because Losing Alice lacks the depth that could have complemented its inventive stylistic flourishes. Both Sophie and Alice’s characters suffer from the standard screenwriting problem that caricatures unlikeable women instead of baring their insecurities. Sophie, in particular, is a fantasy of what a troubled femme-fatale is supposed to look like and not exactly who she is. And without any solid grounding of the deeper motivations of the show’s protagonists, it becomes almost pointless to be invested in the silliness of their obsessions.
As a psychological drama, Losing Alice feels too self-conscious to be enjoyable or even provocative. Its inherent eroticism feels ill-earned only because Avin seems to be prone to sanitising the brazen fixations of his protagonists. It ensures that Losing Alice ends up as a passable show, a cinematic equivalent of elevator music, when it could have been genre-defying. In that sense, the charms of the show lie single-handedly with Zurer’s all-consuming, masterful performance that turns the show on its head, becoming a richly-observed character study of middle-age artistic anxieties and how a female nemesis comes to act as fuel for inspiration.
More than halfway through Losing Alice, Avin arrives at a fascinating intersection, suggesting that boredom is the biggest demon that any artist has to confront. The trouble is that Losing Alice comes very close to boring the viewer before coming to its most engrossing conclusions.
Losing Alice streams on Apple TV+.
See the trailer here
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