‘Luckiest Girl Alive’ Review: Mila Kunis Leads Netflix Adaptation of Jessica Knoll Best-Seller

Ani FaNelli (Mila Kunis) leads an opulent, regimented, and perhaps enviable life. The protagonist of Netflix’s Luckiest Girl Alive works for a glossy women’s magazine is engaged to a Nantucket summer poster boy, and dresses in designer clothes tailored to her svelte figure. She has refined taste, a sharp personality, and a sharp tongue.

The contours of Ani’s meticulously curated existence are evident when we meet her while shopping at Williams-Sonoma with her fiancé, Luke Harrison IV (Finn Wittrock). But so is the nervous energy bubbling beneath it. The wide-eyed brunette is struggling with memories of a traumatic high school experience that included gun violence and sexual assault.

Luckiest Girl Alive

  • Release date: Friday, Oct. 7 (Netflix)
  • Cast: Mila Kunis, Finn Wittrock, Scoot McNairy, Chiara Aurelia, Justine Lupe
  • Director: Mike Barker
  • Screenwriter: Jessica Knoll
  • Rated R, 1 hour 53 minutes

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Luckiest Girl Alive, which is based on Jessica Knoll’s best-selling book of the same name, struggles to strike a balance between its two goals of telling a moving story about survival and encasing its gravity in the cheeky ease of comedies like Freeform’s The Bold Type. Although they don’t have to be antagonistic, Luckiest Girl Alive doesn’t sufficiently support their union. The result is a distant, atonal movie that seems less evocative and more slippery. The inherent difficulties of adapting first-person narratives to the screen bear some of the responsibility. Even though Luckiest Girl Alive has been compared to Gone Girl, which did so more successfully, it’s challenging to visually capture that level of interiority and intimacy.

The film, which was written and directed by Mike Barker (The Handmaid’s Tale), seems to plod through Ani’s disintegration, which is set off by a curious documentary filmmaker (Dalmar Abuzeid) who is out to find the truth about what happened at her elite private high school. He wants to give Ani a chance to prove herself and refute the widespread myth that portrays her as an accomplice rather than a victim. Ani is forced to choose between speaking the truth about her experience and protecting the life she has worked so hard to create because of his insistence on an interview.

Ani’s reluctance to expose herself to the public eye is understandable given how frequently society betrays survivors, and the story of Luckiest Girl Alive supports the dire situation. The movie is set two years before the start of the #MeToo movement, and its release this Friday will mark approximately five years since the peak of the movement. When it is revealed that Dean Barton (Alex Barone), a congressional candidate who initially suggested Ani’s involvement in the shooting, is Ani’s demon, it is difficult to think about the recent high-profile cases of women speaking up about harassment, assault, and abuse at the hands of powerful men. Years have passed since the tragedy, Due to his injuries, Dean has become a paraplegic and a fervent supporter of gun control in the public eye.

The documentary Luckiest Girl Alive spends a lot of time discussing Ani’s uncertainty, which extends beyond whether or not to take part in the project. After the wedding, Ani might have to relocate to London because Luke, a finance professional, has recently been promoted to oversee the European office of his business. Jennifer Beals, Ani’s boss, wants her protégé to join her at The New York Times Magazine as a senior editor due to some ambiguous contractual agreement. The narrative is weighed down by the numerous options—to do the documentary or not, to limit her career or not—and soon begins to feel as though there is simply too much going on.

Ani’s increasing current pressures and her traumatic past are erratically alternated in the movie. Regular tasks cause these flashbacks to occur: Testing knives with her fiance brings back memories of using the kitchen implement as a weapon of defense; listening to the rhythmic pounding of feet on a treadmill makes her think of the shooter’s approaching footsteps. Ani’s memories appear in brief flashes at first, but as Luckiest Girl Alive nears its conclusion, it spends more time in the past. The difficulties a young Ani (Chiara Aurelia) faced as a working-class student at a posh prep school are made more apparent through these scenes. In a movie with mostly passable performances, Aurelia turns into impressive and assured performance. She portrays a more vulnerable version of Ani but gives her subtle savagery that foreshadows and grounds the character’s future impenetrability.

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