Ani Fanelli (Mila Kunis) has it all as the Luckiest Girl Alive. A devastatingly handsome, doting fiancée named Luke (Finn Wittrock), a cutting-edge editorial job at a high-end magazine, an immaculate corporate-chic wardrobe. But underneath the fancy dinners and the glitz and glam, she is harboring a major secret.
When she was a teenager, Ani was a school shooting victim. During the fallout, one of her classmates, Dean (Carson MacCormac/Alex Barone), accused her of being partially responsible for it. Over a decade later, Dean is threatening to appear in a documentary where he will finally “expose” her, once and for all. Mike Barker‘s Luckiest Girl Alive, written by Jessica Kroll and based on her novel of the same name, sees Ani attempting to clear her name while also struggling to contend with the troubling secrets of her past.
For the majority of its 115-minute runtime, the most glaring truth about this film is the fact that it should have been a series instead. Plot points and twists are dealt out at a break-neck speed, not giving the audience enough time to digest what they just saw, let alone care much about it.
Indeed, crucial scenes whip by so fast that it’s tough to discern what elements of the story are actually important in Luckiest Girl Alive. We’re told, for example, that young Ani (Chiara Aurelia) is close friends with Arthur (Thomas Barbusca), a fact that is imperative to understanding her character’s history as a whole. But during flashback scenes, their relationship is never really explored, leaving the viewer with no emotional connection to Arthur or a friendship that much of the film revolves around.
Similarly, When Ani is reunited with a teacher, Andrew (Scoot McNairy), who helped her in her time of crisis back in high school, the scene holds the potential to offer real insight into how she should deal with a massive dilemma she is faced with. But the scene comes and goes and is totally inconsequential. As a result, Ani and Andrew’s past together doesn’t really amount to anything.
Not only does the rapid pacing of Luckiest Girl Alive make the plot difficult to follow, but it also makes it tough to understand the characters’ motivations. When Arthur makes a life-changing decision at the climax of the film, for example, the only insight the viewer has into his actions is one conversation he had with Ani a few scenes earlier.
But the characters’ lack of depth is most frustrating when it comes to Ani. A survivor of a tortured past, she has meticulously rebuilt her life to become powerful and indestructible. But beyond this and clunky, heavy-handed dialogue and a voice-over where she directly refers to her personal growth with near-toxic doses of exposition, we aren’t offered much information about her. Aside from taking down her enemies, what are her interests? We know that she aspires to be a badass in the editorial universe, but is it because she has a real passion for writing? Or is it merely the power that interests her? A character who has transformed herself from the inside out to become unbeatable in the face of trauma has the potential to be fascinating. But not if we don’t know anything else about her.
Much of the film appears to follow a trail of breadcrumbs toward a neatly wrapped-up ending, which one can only hope answers all of these questions. Instead, the minute that we actually get to the real resolution – the meat of the story – the credits roll.
The hasty, lackadaisical nature of Luckiest Girl Alive is not only frustrating on its own but also because the plot itself is fascinating and takes commendable risks in exploring tough, timely themes such as gun violence, sexual assault, and the risks inherent in speaking up against either of those things. Multiple times, the film brushes up against these complex issues, like when Luke suggests that Ani deals with her trauma in a private way, casually silencing her voice as a survivor. But, in keeping with the film’s fleeting style, Barker refuses to linger on the moment long enough for it to really strike a chord with the audience.
Similar to watching a spectacular plot be somewhat squandered, it’s also frustrating to watch skilled actors be handed a sleepy, chewed-up script. In her first big, dramatic movie role in a couple of years, Kunis is a force to be reckoned with as Ani, playing her with a skillful blend of stony stoicism and vulnerability. Aurelia also deserves a shoutout for tackling such a tough, unforgiving role with agility and elegance. And unsurprisingly, the wonderful Connie Britton is also a standout, playing Ani’s cloying mother with both nuance and intensity.
Other actors fall more victim to the clunky script, including Wittrock, who is hardly given anything to do besides be the wealthy arm candy. Succession’s Justine Lupe also sadly serves as nothing more than the supportive best friend character.
It’s clear what Barker was attempting to achieve when he set out to adapt Luckiest Girl Alive: a Gone Girl-like tale of revenge about sexual assault. But, sadly, the film lacks the depth and catharsis required to live up to such a thought-provoking predecessor.