After months of anticipation, the Mila Kunis film Luckiest Girl Alive finally premiered on Netflix, and let’s just say it was not the best way of presenting a trauma narrative.
In 2015, Jessica Knoll published an eponymous thriller novel that was translated into 38 different languages and became an overnight sensation. A gritty tale of sexual abuse and horror, the narrative of trauma and shock also comprised the narrative of healing. In Mike Barker’s Netflix adaptation of the novel, Knoll serves as a screenwriter and fails to uphold the integrity of her work. The film has underwhelming characters with a lack of emotional depth and handles trauma and grief, resulting from “one of the deadliest school shootings in the US” and a gangrape incident quite poorly.
The film sees Kunis as TifAni ‘Ani’ FaNelli, who works meticulously to uphold her version of a perfect life. Despite frequent flashbacks of bloody knives and stabbing her fiance in the neck or the palm, she is the epitome of the nouveau riche. Her fiance, Luke Harrison, “comes from money”. Ani writes salacious articles, eagerly awaits a promotion at The New York Times Magazine and plans for a picture-perfect wedding to a man who might displace her to London.
Her vision of perfection is upended by a documentarian who wants her to feature in a film about the school shooting she survived along with five others. This brings back the harrowing memories of her past and the haunting moments of sexual abuse she faced at the hands of her classmates a few days prior to the accident. Ani, determined to clear her name and denounce involvement with the shooting, decides to be a part of the documentary, leading to a rift in her relationship.
While Barker and Knoll try hard to present a feminist narrative of breaking free from trauma and thriving, they fall short. There is a clear influence of Gillian Flynn’s masterpiece Gone Girl but nowhere does it compare to its predecessor’s brilliance. If anything, the film seems to trivialise trauma narratives by presenting a somewhat cinematic perspective of both rape and school shootings. If anything, they only add a jarring shock value and might be intensely triggering for survivors.
Mila Kunis shoulders the film forward. Her deadpan and droll delivery and overall conniving nature are soon compounded by the traumatising set of events that continue haunting her. Chiara Aurelia is brilliant as the teen Ani, imposing her character despite the few dialogues allotted to her. The film does not utilise Scoot McNairy’s potential to the fullest as he represents Ani’s school teacher, the only one who ever trusted and believed Ani.
The overall cinematography is pretty commendable, especially the employment of the mirror motif. Ani is often shown through mirrors in the film to make the viewers constantly debate over her true self and the obsessive facade she tries to keep up to prevent reality from crumbling.
However, the lack of a twist in the film is a failure on the part of the filmmaker and keeps it from being the thriller it promises to be. In an attempt to talk about the double standards in society for women and present a narrative of trauma and healing, they end up creating a rather flat story that does not live up to the expectations set by the trailer.