Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Sexual assault and gun violence are pointedly targeted in Netflix’s socially conscious drama, Luckiest Girl Alive. Based on the novel by Jessica Knoll (who also wrote the script), the film features a mesmerizing turn from Mila Kunis at her unhinged best as Ani. Ghosts from the past come back to haunt Ani, as she is forced to finally speak out about a decades-old tragedy. Mike Barker’s direction understands the horror of the female experience, approaching the more upsetting moments by always placing character above shock value. I can already predict a divisive reaction from the internet at large, as people will undoubtedly attempt to dissect both the movie’s morals, and Ani’s actions and motivations.

It is 2015, and in just six short weeks, Ani will finally marry the man of her dreams, wealthy and affluent Luke (Finn Wittrock, American Horror Story, Long Weekend). In fact, Ani is on the precipice of greatness. Her longstanding job working for The Women’s Bible is expanding into her lifelong goal of becoming a senior editor for the New York Times. Luke’s firm may require the couple to move to London for a cushy new life. Just when it seems she is about to reach her peak, Ani must confront a dangerous, ugly secret from her past. A crime documentarian approaches Ani with the opportunity to share her truth about what transpired all those years ago at Brentley School, shattering Ani’s carefully-curated image. One of her classmates has already agreed to be a part of the documentary, putting Ani into a difficult corner. How can she let Dean (Alex Barone) besmirch her name when she knows what really happened?

The specific event that occurred at Brentley School is, of course, a centerpiece of Luckiest Girl Alive. As present day Ani questions everything she has built up to this day, she recollects her time as awkward young Ani (Chiara Aurelia, Cruel Summer, Gerald’s Game), starting school on a writing scholarship. Immediately looked down upon as poor and undeserving of her slot there, Ani is not very popular amongst her schoolmates. She does share a fleeting connection with class clown Arthur (Thomas Barbusca, The Mick, Big Time Adolescence), who seems to be one of the few people to actually admire her. After being caught with a flask at a school dance, Ani isn’t exactly on the good side of the teachers either. A simple high school party will be the catalyst to change the course of Ani’s life forever…

Watching Ani unravel before our very eyes is the most intriguing aspect of Luckiest Girl Alive—Chiara Aurelia and Mila Kunis deliver spectacular, layered performances that cut deep into their characters. One really gets the sense that they are believably old/young iterations of each other. While Ani may be a flawed character, she is one that is just fascinating to watch. For once, the decision to have a narrator—a constant weakness for many book-to-screen adaptations—really works. We get to know Ani inside and out, for better or worse burrowed deeply into her headspace. This could be a career-best performance for Mila Kunis, who recently went to some very dark places in 2020’s addiction drama, Four Good Days. I suspect Kunis is having a blast in this stage of her career, selecting projects allowing her to go to dramatic places she had not yet tapped into.

The rest of the ensemble cast is great too—Wittrock is notable as Ani’s doe-eyed hubby that desperately wants Ani to just let go of her past and “get over it,” without expressly saying as such. Excellent casting in both areas of the timeline include Carson MacCormac (Giant Little Ones, East of Middle West) as Young Dean, and of course, Aurelia as Ani. Author Jessica Knoll’s script though is the true star, sure to place careful emphasis on the vital parts of Ani’s story. She never loses the focus and maintains an assured, harrowing vision from start to finish. With a narrative this strong, I was willing to forgive a couple minor flaws, like glossing over some details during a cathartic section of the movie. I also tend to think it would have functioned more smoothly as a strong limited series a la Sharp Objects. Nevertheless, Luckiest Girl Alive is a great drama with a terrific message, and should be essential viewing for women all over the world.

Luckiest Girl Alive confronts a dangerous truth when it debuts exclusively to Netflix on Friday, October 7th.

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