Losing Alice starts with a bang, then goes quiet [Apple TV+ review]

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Lihi Kornowski (left) plays an upstart screenwriter who tangles with a veteran filmmaker (Ayelet Zurer) in Losing Alice.
Lihi Kornowski (left) plays an upstart screenwriter who tangles with a veteran filmmaker (played by Ayelet Zurer) in Losing Alice.
Photo: Apple TV+

New Apple TV+ miniseries Losing Alice takes a deep dive into the psychology of two sexually charged rivals. There’s a lot to sink your teeth into with this eight-episode psychological thriller, which premieres Friday on the streaming service.

Losing Alice offers a cautionary tale about the perils of collaboration — and about riding the wave of TV production to series length.

Losing Alice review

After an introductory apparent suicide of an unknown young woman gets things started, we meet Alice (played by Ayelet Zurer). Alice is a film director experiencing every kind of block a creative type could.

She’s feeling every year of her life as she watches young creators get popular. She and her husband David (Gal Toren) haven’t been in a great place in a long time. She hasn’t been able to follow up her last project because she can’t find inspiration. And she feels like a fraud living the life of an artist.

Enter Sophie (Lihi Kornowski), a young screenwriter who came of age with a lot of help from Alice’s movies. Now she’s about to become a big deal.

Sophie sold the rights to her first screenplay, to be directed by an important filmmaker. Once Sophie meets Alice by chance (or is it?) on a train one day, suddenly both women decide that maybe Alice is the better fit to direct Sophie’s screenplay. If only the other director else weren’t already in the way…

The film is also, surprise surprise, supposed to star none other than David, a famous actor who’s also in something of a spin. Much like Alice, David thinks his best days are behind him. So he scrutinizes his every performance, and obsesses over every review he gets. Between his narcissism and Alice’s feelings of inferiority, the last thing they need is one more obstacle — but that’s exactly what Sophie’s about to become.

It’s so depressing, it’s true …

Losing Alice is the brain child of Israeli TV vet Sigal Avin, who’s been active for the better part of the last two decades without crossing over and finding an audience in the United States. Having only seen the first three episodes of the show so far, I don’t feel terribly unfair calling Avin a stronger writer than director. There’s always a high risk factor involved in making art about making art.

First of all, the precedents are gonna be hard to top. Fellini’s , Truffaut’s Day for Night, Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic, Mathieu Amalric’s Barbara … not only are these incredible films by remarkable artists, they solve the problems faced by a movie about moviemaking: They make studio filmmaking, frequently the most tedious job in the world, into something cinematic.

Three episodes into Losing Alice, Avin’s mostly approached the problem by not even trying to solve it.

Girls on film

Ayelet Zurer plays the titular Alice in Apple TV+ miniseries Losing Alice.
Ayelet Zurer plays the titular Alice.
Photo: Apple TV+

The opening chapters of Losing Alice are mostly about establishing the psychology of its trio of leads. This isn’t an issue in and of itself, except that the points the show makes are really the only things it could make.

Alice and David both quickly develop a sexual fascination with Sophie. And she becomes similarly obsessed with the two of them. She tries to seduce them both in different ways. And you know that she’ll be the death of them or they’ll be the death of her. It’s just a matter of who gets destroyed first. We know that professional and sexual jealousy will be the culprit.

With that in mind — and the show makes sure you know exactly what’s happening, having pulled every move needed from ’90s erotic thrillers — it becomes a little foreboding to know that there are five episodes left and such a clearly delineated narrative arc in the foreground waiting for us. The trouble is, as with the more strongly procedural and bleak Defending Jacob, this could have been a 90-minute movie and you wouldn’t have lost anything.

Maybe I’m wrong and Losing Alice will deliver ecstatically cinematic surprises in coming episodes. But not even the thought of seeing Zurer, a radiant and underrated actress with whom I’ve been besotted since her role in Spielberg’s Munich, is quite enough to get me excited to see the most literal interpretation of a film noir about the making of a film noir.

There’s just something missing at this point. I’m hoping that intangible element shows up to the party.

Losing Alice on Apple TV+

The first three episodes of Losing Alice premiere Friday, January 22, on Apple TV+.

Rated: TV-MA

Watch on: Apple TV+

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the director of 25 feature films, and the author of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.