Visceral while also empowering, Luckiest Girl Alive holds the viewer’s attention with an absorbing mystery and moments of sobering reality. Kunis’s slow descent from numbing pain to self-awareness is subtle but transfixing.
This review of the Netflix film Luckiest Girl Alive does not contain spoilers.
Luckiest Girl Alive hits the streaming waves on Netflix. The smash hit and New York Times best-seller adaptation is true to form, keeping the mix of quality storytelling with scenes of utter horror that many may find prompt uneasy feelings along with buried memories. Many may find this an odd and polarizing mix considering the recent trend of gun violence in our schools. Even the much-talked-about and graphic rape scenes in the film. Yet, the story is told with such consummate grace this may be one of the most entertaining yet gut-wrenching entertainments in years. And who are we to judge a piece of filmmaking from someone who drew from their own experiences? The result is a haunting yet unshackling metaphor for the effects of sexual assault and even victimization.
Luckiest Girl Alive follows Ani (a terrific Mila Kunis), a writer in New York City who seemingly has a perfect life. She has a job at a top magazine where her editor Lolo (Jennifer Beals) thinks she’s a rising star whose writing is “peerless” to the rest. Ani’s also engaged to a bachelor, Luke (Finn Wittrock), who comes from a wealthy family and has a top finance job in London waiting for him, to the glee of her mother (played by Connie Britton). She is so image-conscious that she won’t eat a slice of pizza in front of her fiancé unless he leaves the table. And then she blames the server for spilling a drink on them, which leads to the food being tossed.
Ani has perfectly crafted her image and life in a way that gives total control. Unfortunately, she has a secret she keeps from most people that is about to become known. She has a choice to make: Follow Luke to London or stay at taking her dream job at The New York Times. However, his secret will come to light through an insincere true crime director (Dalmar Abuzeid). You see, Ani used to go by TifAni. She is one of a handful of survivors of the worst school shooting in United States history.
One of the victims, a boy named Dean, accused her of being one of the conspirators. Why would he do that? Because he was one of three teenage boys who raped TifAni at a party a few days prior. She reported the assault to her favorite teacher (Scoot McNairy) but is too ashamed and afraid to pursue it. So, this begs the question if Ani/TifAni had anything to do with the shooting.
This film was directed by Mike Barker, a long-time television producer and director of such series as The Handmaid’s Tale, Fargo, and Broadchurch. He makes his feature debut here, and it’s a good one. Working with a script from the author Jessica Knoll from her source material of the same name, Luckiest Girl Alive is an engrossing first-time feature. Featuring a fierce performance from Mila Kunis, Barker and Knoll successfully adapt a sensitive subject matter with provocative themes that’s also a highly entertaining mystery.
However, let’s make no mistake that many flashbacks can be grueling and tough to watch. Particularly the gang rape scene over several minutes. And, of course, the school shooting scenes are graphic and could be triggering for many. Knoll is on record that the gang rape scene is based on her own experiences, which gives the film added weight. Knowing this, the character, who ruminates in her own head daily, borders on the dangers of having a revenge fantasy, which is what sparked the shooting in the first place.
The whole matter is handled with much thoughtfulness, empathy, and a jolting mix of sobering reality, not only for the victims but the perpetrators. Yet, what Luckiest Girl Alive does so well is explore the areas of victimization. TifAni is singled out with cruel treatment by her attackers, his mother (Connie Bitton), and officials. As much as we are justified in wanting to blame the shooters for their actions, they are victims as well. As much as we see Kunis’s character as a tragic story, her behaviors are becoming self-destructive in her life. Ani’s perfected persona (tough, cool, and cynical) is her cover and shield for her past trauma. Her constant thoughts, feelings, and wants are cloaked by it. Kunis’s slow descent from numbing pain to acutely unguarded self-awareness is subtle but transfixing.
Luckiest Girl Alive is a genre film with timely and modern themes. Despite the film being too long, the story holds the viewer’s attention while mixing in moments of sobering reality. This is a good picture that ultimately may have too many moments of triggering effects for mass audiences. However, the visceral story is empowering, and Kunis’s vulnerability makes Barker and Knoll’s adaptation such an absorbing ride.
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