Saturday 15 October 2022

Movie Review: Luckiest Girl Alive (2022)

A drama about surviving trauma,
Luckiest Girl Alive adopts a caustic attitude towards climbing back from the depths of despair.

In Manhattan, Tiffani "Ani" Fanelli (Mila Kunis) is a writer at a women's magazine and looking forward to marrying the wealthy Luke (Finn Wittrock). Now in her thirties, Ani comes from a humble background and was raised by her single mom Dina (Connie Britton). She is also a survivor of two high school tortuous ordeals: rape and a school shooting. She never spoke about either event, although her teacher Mr. Larson (Scoot McNairy) is aware she was assaulted; and Dean Barton (Alex Barone), a student who survived the shooting, accused her of collaborating with the murderers.

With the upcoming wedding and the potential of landing a job at the New York Times magazine, all Ani's dreams are about to come true. But doubt floods her life when documentary director Aaron (Dalmar Abuzeid) requests an interview for a film about the shooting. She has to decide how much she wants to share, and how disruptive the revelations will be to her carefully constructed rise to the top.

Written by Jessica Knoll as an adaptation of her 2015 book, Luckiest Girl Alive overlays two unresolved tragedies within the psyche of a single victim. Not surprisingly, director Mike Barker allows a cynical, the world-is-rotten-to-the-core mood to permeate through Ani's excessive narration, and then contrasts materialism and trashy magazine articles with deep unresolved emotional scars.

The irony is that Ani chases the vacuous to bury what is real. With Mila Kunis (who also co-produced) accentuating the dark behind her eyes, Ani emerges as a complex character and a product of her times, a society that encourages consumption and frivolity while shrugging off the slaughter of teenagers and providing precious little support to sexual assault victims. She is on her own in rising from the wreckage to define and construct a semblance of a functional life.

The documentary film is a decent narrative device to merge the past and present, forcing Ani to either find her voice or bury it once and for all. To Knoll's credit, the answers here are neither easy nor triumphant, just an evolution of an impossible-to-clean mess.

The film unfortunately falls short on the details. The essential flashback scenes to the key high school events are poorly handled and ultimately given short shrift, undermining the downstream resonance. And the grown Ani's desires are extracted straight out of glossy magazines, too much of the visual emphasis delighting in fashion, glamour, and lavish locales.

Holding up a mirror to dysfunction, Luckiest Girl Alive exposes the damage, but still touches up that makeup.

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