R | 1h 53min | Drama, Crime, Mystery, Thriller | September 30, 2022 (US)
Cut from the same cloth as “Girl on the Train,” “The Woman in the Window” and “Gone Girl,” director Mike Barker’s “Luckiest Girl Alive” is a psychological thriller delivered from the perspective of a woman who could being an unreliable narrator and certainly has a large trunk full of traumatic past events that she, understandably, can’t seem to shake.
Based on the best-selling 2015 debut novel of the same name by Jessica Knoll (who also wrote the screenplay), “Luckiest Girl Alive” centers on Ani FaNelli (Mila Kunis, also co-producer), a 30-something from Manhattan. career woman who seems to have it all.
Everything is great
Ani is the assistant editor and pet of her boss Lolo (Jennifer Beals). Ani is tasked with coming up with risky scenarios for an unnamed Cosmopolitan-like high-end monthly. What Ani really wants to be is the editor of a more prestigious and less cheesy weekly under the same parent company.
Life outside of the clock hours also seems to be going well for Ani. She’s six weeks away from her Nantucket wedding to Luke Harrison IV (Finn Whitrock), a Mr. Handsome old-money dude who’s a financial adviser of sorts. Like Ani, Luke isn’t interested in having kids, making them the perfect DINK (dual-earner, no-kid) poster couple.
The first clue we get that Ani isn’t working on all cylinders is when she has a hallucination at a cutlery store and a bizarre encounter at a restaurant shortly after. Not quite finishing their pizza, Luke asks the waitress for a box to take out before heading to the restroom. Before the waitress returns, Ani wolfs down the two remaining pieces nearly whole, then deliberately spills her soda. When Luck returns, Ani tells him that the waitress spilled the drink, ruining the leftovers and staining her dress.
Despite having the svelte figure of a fashion model, Ani still harbors body image issues from her teenage years, which were made worse when she entered a tony private school in Philadelphia and started being scolded by kids. richer “cool” children because she comes from a “poor” family. .
Portrayed in flashback by Chiara Aurelia, Ani is able to temporarily enter the nerd clique, led by Arthur (Thomas Barbusca), a kind of wing nut who doesn’t wilt under the pressure of bullying.
Dina (Connie Britton), Ani’s largely clueless and deaf single mother, is of little help to her and relentlessly makes negative comments about her weight, which is not at all excessive. Ani isn’t even close to “chunky”: hence Ani’s current pizza issues.
In the present day, Ani is being aggressively pursued by a filmmaker preparing a documentary acknowledging the 20th anniversary of a school shooting that claimed the lives of seven people and put another teenager in a wheelchair. Due to Ani’s previous nasty interactions with three of the victims, she has become suspicious but cannot clear her name for reasons best not mentioned here.
Initially claiming that the novel was not autobiographical in nature when promoting its initial release, Knoll eventually revealed that it was indeed at least partially true, not that it makes much difference.
Negative self-esteem, peer pressure, bullying and unwanted sexual advances are, unfortunately, the norm and not the exception in American high schools, and what happens in this movie is based on facts or not is irrelevant. It has certainly become more pronounced and visible in recent years through smart phones and social media and, sadder still, it is unlikely to go away anytime soon.
Some of the film’s critics have complained that there’s too much back and forth regarding past and present timelines, and to a lesser extent, they’re right. However, if the story had been presented in chronological order, it wouldn’t have worked remotely. If the filmmakers had chosen a conventional linear narrative from A to B, the big plot “revelation” would have happened halfway through the runtime and would have ruined the rest of the film.
A few others pointed out that Kunis and Aurelia bear little resemblance, which is also true but far from a deal breaker. What Aurelia might miss being a mirror image of a young Kunis is made up for in her measured and understated performance. In the wrong hands and with too much effort, his part could easily have been overcooked.
A career highlight
For Kunis, of Ukrainian descent, “Luckiest Girl Alive” marks the pinnacle of her acting career. In her performance that’s not so far removed from her Oscar-nominated turn in the equally unnerving “The Black Swan,” Kunis never tries to soften or sand off Ani’s rougher edges.
There are many points in the story where Ani comes across as bordering on implausibility, depth, and narcissism. Kunis doesn’t seem to want the audience to feel sorry for Ani; she eventually wishes to get us to accept her actions, which are not always initially presented as being honest or altruistic.
It’s only in the final 15 minutes that Ani’s character comes full circle, proving to us that she’s much deeper and grounded in truth than we first thought. She transforms into a woman of conviction who values morality and decency over what one might think of her or her idyllic nuptials on Nantucket Island.
“The luckiest girl in the world”
Director: Mike Barker
With: Mila Kunis, Connie Britton, Jennifer Beals, Finn Whitrock, Chiara Aurelia
Duration: 1 hour 53 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Release date: October 7, 2022
Rating: 4 out of 5