The 2015 New York Times Bestselling mystery novel written by the American author Jessica Knoll, has been adapted for the silver screen, starring Mila Kunis in the titular role. The film Luckiest Girl Alive, directed by Mike Barker, will premiere in theatres before being released on Netflix.
The story revolves around a young woman who comes across as confident and self-centred but will reveal to be vulnerable, as we discover a series of horrifying events that affected her teenage years.
Ani Fanelli is referred to by several names during the story: TifAni FaNelli, Tif, and Finny. We first get acquainted with twenty-eight year old Ani (Mila Kunis), who appears to have a perfect life. She works as an editor at The Women’s Bible, a glamorous magazine and is engaged to Luke Harrison (Finn Wittrock), a charming and loving man from a prominent family. However the successful woman hides a secret: as a teenager (Chiara Aurelia de Braconier d’Alphen) she underwent a series of harrowing events, including a gang rape and a school shooting, that have continued to haunt her adult years. Ani’s perfectly moulded existence starts to falter when a true-crime documentary filmmaker puts her in the position of facing her demons.
Just live the novel, the film alternates between the present day and Ani’s freshman year at Brentley High School. Mike Barker’s adaptation sensitively portrays the struggle of the middle-class girl who wants to fit in with the popular crowd and complies to the abuses of the group. She doesn’t want to upset the ambitions of her mother (Connie Britton) and is aware that the wealthy families of the boys who took advantage of her would not recognise her as the victim but label her as promiscuous. This is why Ani, after being coaxed into getting drunk at a party and being raped by Dean Barton (Carson MacCormac), and two of his friends, initially doesn’t denounce the attack but finds support in her teacher, Professor Andrew Larson (Scoot McNairy). Ani unexpectedly witnesses how her bullies trigger a murderous reaction from two high school outcasts she befriended in school: Arthur (Thomas Barbusca ) and Ben (David Webster). Through the years, to overcome the trauma, Ani has grown into a woman who knows exactly how to please others, from her boss LoLo Vincent (Jennifer Beals), to her boyfriend. But this talent of Ani has lead her to negate her true self.
The entire cast brings the drama to life with compelling grit, starting from the young actors. The adolescent Ani is played by talented Chiara Aurelia, who was nominated for a 2022 Critics Choice Award for her leading role as Jeanette Turner in the series Cruel Summer. Audiences will also enjoy the return to the screen of iconic actresses, such as Flashdance’s Jennifer Beals and Nashville’s Connie Britton. Lead actress Mila Kunis is impeccable in filling the shoes of this multifaceted character with an edge and mood swings, but with a very solid ethical code.
Ani’s morals ultimately serve as beacon to emerge from the smoke screen of lies she used to hide through her life. As she says at one point: “An approximation of honesty won’t make the cut.” Thus, she realises that to thrive as the woman she aspires to be, she must confront the truth and her abusers.
The film, distributed by Lionsgate and produced by Reese Witherspoon’s Pacific Standard, took time in the making since the character of Ani doesn’t come across as appealing from the very beginning. Her layers peel away throughout the narrative. This is the trait that makes Ani so fascinating and authentic: she has built a shield of disguises to protect herself from trauma. The feelings of vindication that emerge are raw. Although Ani does not perpetrate any act of violence she doesn’t feel sorry for the aftermath of the shooting that somehow punished her abusers. This makes her real and relatable, specifically because she does not resemble a compassionate saint but an emotionally wounded human being.
Final Grade: B+