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‘Luckiest Girl Alive’ Review: A Flawed But Compelling Bestseller Retelling

Dir. Mike Barker — 2.5 stars

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Dark messaging, childhood trauma, and shocking violence coalesce in “Luckiest Girl Alive.” The Netflix film is based on Jessica Knoll’s 2015 New York Times bestselling book of the same name. However, due to its darker themes, the film has also found itself mired in controversy, with viewers urging Netflix to add a trigger warning to the beginning of the film.

“Luckiest Girl Alive” follows New York writer Ani FaNelli (Mila Kunis), who is asked to take part in a true-crime documentary about the school shooting that occured at her high school. While the movie presents itself as a seemingly light story about a writer in New York planning for her wedding, “Luckiest Girl Alive” progressively adopts a darker tone in its dialogue, as well as in its graphic scenes of violence. As a film, “‘Luckiest Girl Alive” succeeds in delivering a strong message that involves complex themes. However, it is in the film’s core scenes of violence and trauma that it fails to reach its potential.

Kunis shone throughout this film, delivering lines effectively and performing heavier scenes with a commendable skill. Ani FaNelli requires compelling portrayal because she is in recovery from multiple traumatic events, and Kunis steps up to the task. She surprises in both light-hearted and particularly tense scenes with the way she is able to embody the weight of her character’s past as the film progresses. About half of Kunis’s scenes depict her engaging in pre-wedding activities believably and naturally and add a brilliant contrast to her tense form and pained expressions when she speaks about Ani’s teenage years. The sharp dissonance in these states of being highlights her ability to seamlessly shift from a writer to a survivor.

Chiara Aurelia, who plays the teenage Ani FaNelli, similarly impresses in her portrayal of the horrific events that occurred during Ani’s high school years. Despite having to depict horrific displays of repeated sexual assault, Aurelia effectively conveys Ani’s complex emotions and behaviors in many hard-to-watch scenes. In addition, the dialogue of the film is well-written and effective in conveying both the daily conversations of the characters and scenes of tragedy.

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Despite compelling performances, “Luckiest Girl Alive” falls short in a familiar way: in its use of flashbacks to reveal past events. The plot of the film is based on the tragedies that Ani encountered, however, it is unclear to the reader until the later half of the film how Ani and her classmates were truly involved in this horrific event. While it leaves watchers in the dark for a majority of the film, this strategy initially works well for the film. It depicts the heavy toll the event still had on Ani’s daily life and the long term effects that still reverberated in her life, rather than simply recounting her past. However, this leads to ultimately confusing introductions of characters and relationships.

As a result, “Luckiest Girl Alive” disappoints in the most pivotal moments of Ani’s life. While the film’s brevity during these teenage scenes can be beneficial in avoiding repetitiveness, these parts of the film are confusing due to a lack of introduction or context for new characters and the connections between the main character and surrounding characters being made only after these scenes have already passed. Furthermore, it would have been more effective to display more context of Ani’s home life and relationships with her social circle and mother, in order to better lay out the story to viewers. In speaking about her own reasons for writing the book, Knoll said the book was based on her own experiences in high school:

"There were these dueling things inside of me. I desperately craved the release of getting my story out on paper, and the validation of recognizing what had happened to me as rape. I needed that,” Knoll said.

Knoll’s experiences help shine a light on the main messaging of the film. Despite confusing scenes and relationships, the film effectively conveys powerful messaging about trauma and the label of “a victim.” Whether it be Kunis and Aurelia’s performances or a love for Knoll’s book, “Luckiest Girl Alive” is a film with important takeaways that should not be overlooked.

—Staff writer Monique I. Vobecky can be reached at monique.vobecky@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @moniquevobecky.

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