Losing Alice takes a delightfully mean-spirited turn [Apple TV+ review]

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Lihi Kornowski plays a meta-femme fatale in Losing Alice.
Lihi Kornowski plays a meta-femme fatale in Losing Alice.
Photo: Apple TV+

In this week’s episode of Losing Alice, the new Apple TV+ limited series about a disastrous relationship between a cunning young screenwriter and a desperate director, the show moves into the psychodramatic territory it’s been threatening to enter.

In “The Obsession,” an audition goes haywire, Sophie the screenwriter bares her teeth and Alice the director doesn’t notice anything — which will cost her dearly.

Losing Alice: ‘The Obsession’ review

With all the groundwork laid for Sophie and Alice’s coming together in the first three episodes, now Losing Alice needs to get to the part where they lose Alice (played by Ayelet Zurer). The director has already shown herself out of her comfort zone — and out, indeed, of the usual routine she and her family have come to expect from her.

In the first three episodes of the limited series, she allowed herself to be dragged off on a drunken swimming adventure. She got pulled over for drunk driving and then fought with husband, David (Gal Toren), about what looks to him like a kind of breakdown. To her, it just feels like she’s having fun.

It’s obvious to us in the audience that Alice has allowed herself to do crazy, risky things because she wants to impress the more free and wild Sophie (Lihi Kornowski). She has a kind of fixation on the young screenwriter. If Alice stops the ride, Sophie will find someone else who wants to get on with her.

Into this tense dynamic walks Daniella (Hadar Dimand), one of a dozen girls auditioning for the role in Alice’s movie based on Sophie’s script. Alice thinks she’d be perfect, but Sophie gets one look at her and leaves the audition space.

When Daniella returns for another audition at the following day’s callback, she’s tired and hungover. She looks distressed — and she has a story to tell. Seems that as soon as Daniella left the audition, Sophie tracked her down, got her drunk and high, took her back to her apartment … and then things get hazy.

Don’t the moon look big and bright …

Ayelet Zurer and Gal Toren in <em>Losing Alice.</em>
Ayelet Zurer and Gal Toren in Losing Alice.
Photo: Apple TV+

It was an open question in Losing Alice when the title character’s obsession with Sophie would start to hurt her professional life as well as her personal one. In the show, the casting director is none too impressed with Daniella’s story and wants Sophie reprimanded. Predictably the episode doesn’t end with Alice taking a hard line on the actress’s bad behavior.

No, indeed, she imagines putting Sophie in the movie in the lead role, instead, which of course would require the temperamental young woman to perform erotic scenes with David.

At this point in the drama, it’s very clear that one or two things has to be true. One, Alice is so obsessed with Sophie that she’d let her life disintegrate to keep her in it. Two, she has some ulterior motive for letting Sophie get her way.

The first one isn’t believable, because there isn’t anything in Kornowski’s performance that suggests magnetism so strong. She’s certainly good, but neither actress nor writer/director Sigal Avin has made Sophie the irresistible presence she has to be for this to work. The second one isn’t believable yet because everything we know about Alice doesn’t suggest a Machiavellian at work.

… and I’ll be your everything.

Such are the pitfalls of taking a movie idea and stretching it to eight episodes. Yes, you get more time to flesh out all the ideas and psychological elements. But if you don’t have enough to support such a lengthy exploration, the audience starts to look sideways at each new development.

It was in this episode of Losing Alice that I stopped believing in the idea that Alice sees enough in Sophie to keep letting her get away with being such a dangerous element.

Sophie drugged a woman and knowingly coerced her into a sexual situation. Unless this is an elaborate revenge scheme being orchestrated by Alice, it just isn’t believable that she’d let Sophie get away with it. And it’s even less believable that Alice needs Sophie so badly to be in this movie that she’d put more people and her own marriage in danger to do it.

Unfortunately, when Avin finally shows us what Alice envisions for this ingenious movie — a film the director would die if she couldn’t make — the concept looks pretty dire.

That’s one of the great hazards of making movies about directors. They’d better be at least as good or better than you, unless they’re supposed to be bad.

Losing Alice still has four episodes left to reveal Avin’s design. I’m sincerely hoping it’s worth the investment.

Losing Alice on Apple TV+

New episodes of Losing Alice arrive on Apple TV+ each Friday.

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.