This is a tough one to sit through yet one of the most important movies to see as well.
‘Luckiest Girl Alive’ movie review: Mila Kunis starrer is a disturbing, gripping watch
Director: Mike Barker
Starring: Mila Kunis, Finn Wittrock, Scoot McNairy, Thomas Barbusca, Jennifer Beals, Connie Britton
Storyline: A true-crime documentary threatens to unravel a woman’s perfect life
Runtime: 113 minutes
Mirrors reflect who we are, or at least how we want to appear to others. Director Mike Barker’s “Luckiest Girl Alive” uses them as a motif throughout this tale centered on a woman whose pristine, calculated image disguises a mess of insecurities and intense psychological pain.
As Ani Fanelli (Mila Kunis) stalks the corridors of the glossy women’s magazine she works in, clothed in the perfect outfit and accessories, with five weeks to go for her Nantucket wedding to wealthy, handsome achiever Luke (Finn Wittrock), who worships the ground upon which she walks, you would think she has everything. In fact, she could well be the luckiest girl alive.
Where is the catch, you wonder, especially when Ani says Luke loves her despite knowing her darkest secrets? Not all of them, she hastily amends while scarfing down the leftover pizza. You know there is something darker going on when Ani and Luke are looking at knives at the wedding registry. It is triggering as Ani flashes back to blood dripping off of a knife.
As the film progresses, we learn that Ani was involved in horrifying events as a teenager, including a school shooting. Dean Barton (Alex Barone), one of the survivors, who is wheelchair-bound, accuses Ani of complicity in the shooting.
When a documentary film director, Aaron Wickersham, (Dalmar Abuzeid) approaches Ani for her side of the story for the nth time, Ani agrees to do it despite it meaning she has to revisit her traumatic past. Ani or TifAni (Chiara Aurelia) was always an outsider at the posh Brentley School to which she won a scholarship. Her mother, Dina (Connie Britton), slaves and squirrels away her alimony to give Ani the start she needs in life. Dina feels Brentley is a step in the right direction.
Doing well at school, winning the appreciation of her English teacher, Andrew Larson (Scoot McNairy), and enjoying the friendship of the brainy boys Arthur (Thomas Barbusca) and Ben (David Webster), Ani seems to be all set to conquer the world.
On the other hand, though the curvaceous Ani with her unruly hair does not seem to fit in with the well-groomed, well-heeled set, they welcome her anyway. She is swept along in the wild whirly-gig of parties, dancing and drinking till something goes horribly wrong climaxing in the shooting.
Luckiest Girl Alive tells its story in two timelines — one with the impending marriage and a job offer from The New York Times Magazine (it is always The New York Times in the movies!) and the other detailing Ani’s her time at Brentley.
Skilfully adapted for the screen from her 2015 bestselling novel of the same name, Jessica Knoll has brought contemporary concerns alive in a thrilling film. Kunis is brilliant and brittle as Ani, as is Aurelia. The supporting cast is as good, including Justine Lupe as Ani’s best friend Nell, and Jennifer Beals as Ani’s no-nonsense editor Lolo Vincent.
The film uses mirrors and reflections to sharpen the split between Ani’s perception of herself and how others look at her. While she believes she is “a wind-up doll…turn my key and I will tell exactly what you want to hear,” others naturally think differently of her.
Luckiest Girl Alive is marred by Ani’s inexplicable meeting with a fellow journalist at the end. If you can just look away from that, the film, like the book, is a harrowing watch, gripping from the get-go.
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