In Josephine Mackerras’ new first-time film “Alice,” the action begins joyfully at a dinner party with friends joining Alice (Emilie Piponnier) and her ultra-charming husband, François (Marin Swabey).

A good time is being had by all, and toasts and banter all point to the happy couple as being what all the others wish they were.

Breakfast the next morning with François, Alice and their darling son, Jules, looks equally cozy and ideal.

Suddenly, François has to rush out to business. He quaffs a quick brandy (“perfect for a mouthwash”) and gulp of Alice’s coffee.

This is the last time we will be in the company of this happy Parisian couple.

By noon, Alice discovers that none of her bank cards work. Not only that, the charming François has disappeared and doesn’t answer his cellphone.

Later in the day, Alice finds that François has emptied all of their bank accounts. Worse, he had stopped paying the mortgage months ago, and has vanished from the face of the Earth, leaving Alice treading water in an ocean of pain.

Sweet Alice is told that unless she comes up with 8,000 euros in two weeks, she’ll be walked out of the apartment by the French version of the FBI.

Now Alice and Jules find themselves adrift in the middle of a Parisian social nightmare.

Mind you, this isn’t happening to a tough Cate Blanchett or U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Our Alice is a mild, mousy, sweeter-than-honey naif, a combination of the very young Julia Roberts and June Allyson.

Desperate and frantic, Alice goes through François’s personal papers and uncovers his black book, finding ample evidence that he has squandered her inheritance on high-priced “escorts” from the priciest bookers in Paris.

Alice calls her mother, who consoles her by telling her “all marriages go through a few bumps.” Alice, still having trouble breathing, finds the escort office and goes to there to discover where the money went, asking for a price list. Thinking she’s looking for work, the madams offer her a job.

“You could make 1,200 euros an hour, 1,800 for dinner, 3,000 overnight, and we get 40 percent.”

Our desperate damsel resists at first. Then the creditors lean on her, insisting that she has only 48 hours to come up some euros or lose everything.

Faced with bills and the need to buy food for little Jules, Alice, who François always called “the purest thing I’ve ever known,” is befriended by one of the other “escorts,” a world-wise and kindly Lisa (Chloe Boreham), who convinces her that bedding with millionaires in luxury hotels is better than sleeping on cardboard in the street.

At first glance, you might think this is a sequel on how Julia Roberts got started in her life in “Pretty Woman”; but Alice, with no apparent typing, waitressing or house cleaning experience, none of which would pay 1,200 euros an hour, becomes a highly paid “escort” and reluctantly accepts the somewhat unpleasant reality of making 10,000 euros a night. We witness a few “appointments.” Some are painted with humor; others, with sadness.

After a few months in her new life, with the bills being paid and things looking brighter, guess who re-enters the scene?

Yes, a penitent François is back with a long face, sad story and tears. (He’s been living next door with a friend all this time.) He’s begging for a new chance.

When he discovers how she’s bounced back, François, shocked and horrified, of course, blackmails her into re-entering a life of subjugation, with the threat of losing her son. By now, all of the #MeTooers will have thrown their popcorn at the screen and left.

Hold on. There is a last hope for Alice, one you can see coming clear down the Seine — but for this reviewer, too full of holes to float.

Piponnier and Swabey, both fine actors, manage to survive a shaky story.

 

J.P. Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and screen actor.

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