Brandon’s review published on Letterboxd:
I’m just going to say it: I’m pretty sure ALICE DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE is one of my favorite Scorsese films, if not my favorite one. Honestly, I have never been too taken with Scorsese or his work, I can appreciate his skill, and I appreciate his impact on the film industry, but from the work of his that I have seen I more often than not find myself appreciating his films than enjoying them. And the fact that I was constantly shocked to remember that Scorsese directed this is probably the reason that I enjoyed it as much as I do. For me, Scorsese has a very distinct style, and he tends to stay within the same few genres, and this was such a different type of film for him that it was really refreshing to see how he handled such a different type of film.
The film is honestly really straightforward in its storytelling. Alice Hyatt, who is magnificently portrayed by Ellen Burstyn, is trying to refigure out her life after her abusive husband suddenly dies. She has to uproot herself and her very hyper-active son from their home to try and find a new home where they can survive. This isn’t a new story, we have seen it done over and over again, you can probably watch this same plot once a week on Lifetime, but there is such a sense exploration of those themes with ALICE that gives a really new look into these topics. Some of the handlings of these topics, specifically the domestic abuse, is quite dated, and comes off kind of odd when looking at with 2019 eyes, but I think it handles itself decently well. I also really wasn’t too keen on the romantic parts of the film, and feel like the chemistry between Burstyn and Kris Kristofferson was forced for the sake of the film.
But I was captivated throughout. The way Burstyn tackles this character is truly remarkable, and she never allows herself or her character to be predictable when handling any of the events thrown at her. Burstyn works really well with her onscreen kid, played by Alfred Lutter, the two have a very typical mother-son relationship, but I think that is why it works so well – their scenes together feel as if I was watching any friend of mine with their mother, it was authentic and felt truly personal. I enjoy the introduction of Alice to the new restaurant where she takes a job to make money, and I really enjoy the progression of the relationship between Alice and Diane Ladd’s Flo, their antagonistic start to their flourishing friendship is really sweet to watch, and is refreshing to finally see Alice have someone rooting for her. Also of note, Ladd delivers one of my favorite supporting performances of recent memory, because she elevates a pretty simplistic character to this fully-developed and hysterically relevant supporting player.
The only scene that I have issues getting behind is the very beginning; it feels completely out of place from the rest of the film. It looks stunning, but it just feels kind of odd, and seemed only to be added to try and set up Alice’s goals of being a singer. In fact, that whole plot thread is kind of horribly done for me, as it never feels prominently integrated, and seemed to be added whenever the writer remember that they included it to begin with.
Anyway, this was truly something special. And I really loved seeing this side of Scorsese, and I wish he had more films like this. And my greatest takeaway from this was that I now recognize how amazing Ellen Burstyn in, I have always appreciated her work, but this film really showcased just how good she can be.