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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Luckiest Girl Alive’ on Netflix, an Uneven Psycho-Trauma Drama Starring Mila Kunis

Luckiest Girl Alive (now on Netflix) casts Mila Kunis in possibly her heaviest lead role yet, the protagonist of Jessica Knoll’s bestselling novel about a woman hounded by past traumas. The character is Ani Fanelli, who survived a brutal sexual assault and a school shooting as a teenager, and now finds her adult self torn between a projection of who she is and who she really is. It’s an undeniably powerful performance from Kunis, at the service of a film that struggles a bit to navigate tricky, complicated subject matter.


The Gist: The past keeps creeping into Ani’s present. She can’t pick up a knife without recalling that day, or picturing herself plunging it into someone. It happens while she and her fiance Luke (Finn Wittrock) register for wedding gifts at the overpriced upscale kitchen-stuff emporium – then she suggests they go out for pizza. He teases her: Ani NEVER eats carbs! That’s because she’s obsessed with being fit, which is part of fitting into her role as the wife-to-be of an old-money Ivy League kid who gave her his Nana’s engagement bauble, which is so huge you expect the Joker to stage a heist for it at any moment. At the restaurant, Finn excuses himself to the restroom and Ani seizes the moment and wolfs down two slices like a desperate predator that finally snatched a bunny off a frozen barren plain.

Ani wasn’t always lean and thin. She also wasn’t Ani. She was Tiffany (Chiara Aurelia), the new kid on scholarship at the swanky private school, her mother (Connie Britton) obsessed with appearances, namely, appearing like they shop at Saks instead of TJ Maxx. It was a writing scholarship, and now Ani hammers out how-to-give-the-ultimate-beej advice pieces for The Women’s Bible, a mag that top-bills its sex advice and leavens it with the real writing Ani wishes she could do. She yearns for the New York Times Magazine byline, and it’s absolutely reachable; her editor (Jennifer Beals) is vying for an NYT position, knows a star when she sees one, and therefore keeps Ani under her wing.

But the past is really dogging Ani now – a documentary filmmaker desperately wants her to share the story of that time. Her side of what happened. Dean Barton (Alex Barone) is sharing his side on a book tour; he’s a high-profile gun-control advocate who wrote a memoir and alleges that Ani was in cahoots with the kids who shot up their school. Has alleged. Has always alleged. Since 1999, when it happened. And a little before that was an incident occurring in one of this movie’s searingly awful flashbacks, when Tiffany got drunk at a party and passed out and woke up in a series of bleary hazes as young Dean (Carson MacCormac) and a couple of his buddies gang-raped her. Afterwards, no one wanted to hear it. Not her mother, not her friends, not the headmaster. Only her teacher Mr. Larson (Scoot McNairy), who by coincidence found her bloody and dazed that night, tried to do something about it, and got fired for his trouble. They run into each other years later, also by coincidence, and he doesn’t recognize Tiffany. That was intentional. She’s Ani now – whoever that is.

Mila Kunis -- Luckiest Girl Alive
Photo: Netflix

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: All the Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train comparisons are on the money – bestseller-to-film translations that are a provocative mix of the glib and the sordid. (For what it’s worth, Luckiest Girl falls in between the incandescent Gone Girl and the soapy The Girl on the Train.)

Performance Worth Watching: Kunis is a powerhouse, building on her muscular performances in Black Swan and Four Good Days. Her quiet-ball-of-rage, razor-tongued characterization of Ani is charismatic and memorable.

Memorable Dialogue: Ani: “My anger is like carbon monoxide. It’s odorless, colorless and completely toxic.”

Sex and Skin: Only the disturbing rape sequence.

Our Take: Luckiest Girl Alive is a discommodious mixture of riveting psychodrama, thick melodrama and upsetting traumadrama (which should officially be a subgenre by now) that Kunis does her damnedest to hold together. Of course, she can’t be in the flashbacks, which are the most troublesome pieces of this narrative, their unsettling imagery teetering just on the wrong side of distasteful exploitation. Director Mike Barker seems more interested in the gory details of a teenage girl being gunned down or the blood dripping down Tiffany’s leg than the story’s many, many thematic layers – social stigma, class struggles, the #MeToo movement, the challenges career women face, the gun control issue, single parenthood, the exploitation of trauma, the battle between sexes. Anything else we need to pile on poor Ani?

Adapting her novel to the screen, Knoll layers in voiceover narration with a vengeance, vicious commentary that Ani thinks but doesn’t dare say, except when her carefully constructed facade springs a leak, prompting a psychological come-to-Jesus moment with herself. At first, the voiceover plays like intrusive satire, but it soon becomes prevalent that she’s struggling to draw the line between the person inside her head and the character she outwardly projects to please her fiance and boss – just like the imagery from her past blurs into the present. This, the film insists, is how trauma works: It splits us in two and renders us unable to let go of the things that burden us.

And a lot of that is society’s fault, triggering Ani’s anger, the cruel outbursts that Luke discautiously calls “crazy.” Luckiest Girl presents this dichotomy cleverly and effectively, and Kunis navigates it with credible vulnerability and empathy. It may be more than what the film ultimately deserves – it frequently hinges on coincidence and predictable plot devices, and the pat, saccharine conclusion rests uneasily with its harsher tones. But one never fails to sense the passion in Knoll’s overtures, and Kunis wholeheartedly channels it.

Our Call: STREAM IT. Luckiest Girl Alive can be tonally haphazard and occasionally – beware: P-word impending – problematic, but it’s also frequently gripping, and rendered empathetic by an inspired Kunis.

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at