Jessica Knoll, who wrote the mystery novel the film is based on, serves as the script writer for Luckiest Girl Alive. In such a context, it is safe to presume the events on the screen mirror that of the book, for the most part. Taken in isolation, the story is an important one. Although it isn’t one we haven’t heard before, it dives deep into the pressing issues of gender, bullying, peer pressure, sexual assault, and an attempt to fit in at any cost. While the narrative is not all that original, it deals with timely subjects that will forever remain relevant.
The central character Ani Fanelli (Mila Kunis) comes off as a sort of unreliable narrator type with her people-pleasing behaviour on the outside in direct contrast to who she is on the inside. She has made it into an elite world and is willing to do whatever it takes to stay. Ani was once called TifAni or Finny in high school… a person she wishes to forget or leave behind. Engaged to a generationally wealthy and successful man and a writing career on the rise at a prominent women’s magazine in New York are two things she supposedly holds dear.
The former ticks all the boxes she is looking for (including access) and the latter serves as a stepping stone for bigger things. She has convinced herself that this is the best life to lead. Whether that is what she actually wants is a whole different matter. And therein lies the problem. The voice in her head is sarcastic and cutting but it is honest. Traumatic and complicated events from decades ago do not let her forget who she is and where she comes from.
Because of the nature of the two characters, it is easy to draw parallels with Rosamund Pike’s character of Amy Dunne from Gone Girl. While Pike’s performance was unsettling and complex—leaving behind a trail of unanswered questions in its wake—in the film, Mila Kunis fails to inject the same sort of brilliance into Ani. Ani’s character is supposed to be complicated, with her past threatening her present. But not for a moment does Kunis’ deadpan delivery and emoting abilities convince you of how messed up she is within.
Chiara Aurelia, who plays TifAni, Ani’s younger self, fits better into her role of a teenager navigating the evils of high school. She exhibits the full range of complex emotions in her performance, especially after all that goes wrong on a drunken night of the school dance. Without much support and constant bullying, she wishes not to pursue assault charges. The toxic environment propagated by a few influential male students (including her boyfriend) leads to a terrible school shooting tragedy. One of her assaulters—who became disabled on the day of the shooting—has now become a famous proponent of gun control. Ani’s involvement in the massacre is being questioned and a documentary filmmaker wants to hear her side of the story.
The primary issue with Luckiest Girl Alive is not that it doesn’t tell a compelling story. It most certainly does. It is the acting, specifically related to that of its lead character that fails on several counts. Mila Kunis isn’t ideal for the part. It needed someone to don the character’s skin to such an extent that the intensity and contradiction exuded from her. It would be a real stretch to say that Kunis is believable through the film. And this has nothing to do with her borderline unreliable narrator role. If she were believable, the grown-up Ani would have all our empathy. Maybe because her younger self is more real and raw (not playing to the gallery, so to speak), we are able to readily empathise with her.
Another thing that does not quite work in the film’s favour is the voice inside her head (that contradicts almost everything she says or does in real life). The part of being and pretending to be ought to have been presented in a manner different from what made it to the final cut. It is too overt and that’s a problem. With the help of its original story, Luckiest Girl Alive puts forth key subjects that need to be discussed at length. Gun and sexual violence at school, bullying, peer pressure, and fitting in, and the importance of leading an authentic life to be content are themes to be taken very seriously. But bad casting and an ordinary performance from Mila Kunis in the lead relegates a would-be good film to average territory.