A living demonstration of Sundance priorities, the ultra-indie Special Jury Prize winner What Alice Found has a shaky grip on interesting raw materials: truck-stop prostitution and its peripheral wage-earner blues, as well as a general nation-of-roads sense of multi-axle nomadism. But amateurism smothers the baby in the crib: Beyond being merely shortsighted, ignorant of human interaction, and clogged with song-interlude padding, A. Dean Bell’s nickel-and-dimer suffers from basic technical half-assed-ness. Apparently shot with a family camcorder, What Alice Found hardly has a single adequately matched eyeline cut in its entirety. They teach this stuff to freshman film students for a reason—otherwise, you’ve got a freshman film.
Bell stays focused on the interstate milieu, but it’s difficult to believe a frame of it. His character is Alice (Emily Grace), a huffy, eye-rolling plain-Jane fool (or is Grace’s acting limited to huffiness and eye-rolling?) who heads to Miami from New Hampshire with a leaf bag of clothes and a pocketful of stolen money. She doesn’t get out of Pennsylvania before her car dies, allowing her to fall in with Sandra (Judith Ivey) and Bill (Bill Raymond), an RV-driving retired couple just lookin’ to help out a stranger. The lollygagging way south grows slowly tense as Alice realizes that her friends are an aging parking-lot hooker and pimp, and that she’s being gradually lured into whoredom herself.
The Carroll reference suggests ambitions that never materialize. Bell isn’t afraid to make the few plot or character points blunt-force-trauma obvious—with fat close-ups, usually—and he has no eye for the landscape or ear for talk. Of course, Ivey hits the turf pitching and catching dialogue like a pro, but nothing could have saved What Alice Found from a fundamental cinematic illiteracy.