‘Luckiest Girl Alive’ Review: Mila Kunis Delivers a Career-Best Performance
As one character states to Mila Kunis’ Ani at one point in Luckiest Girl Alive, “an approximation of honesty doesn’t make the cut.” It’s true. Sometimes you can only get your point across if you’re bold in how you tell your story. Throughout its entire runtime, the Netflix movie takes this statement and runs with it, and surprises you at every turn making creative decisions. True, they’re not always decisions that make for a comfortable watch, but its ruthless drive to go where it needs to go is one of this movie’s strongest qualities.
Based on a New York Times best-selling novel by author Jessica Knoll (who also pens the script), Luckiest Girl Alive tells the story of a magazine writer who’s aiming to make it to the top rankings of the writing world. The more she focuses on her steadfast race to the top, however, the more complicated her personal life gets: A documentary about a traumatic event in her past is getting made, and Ani (Kunis) is the person that potential viewers are more interested in hearing speak out.
The first and most interesting choice that Luckiest Girl Alive makes is to establish Ani as an unreliable narrator. Not only is this explicitly stated in a flashback by one of Ani’s teachers, but you constantly hear Ani’s voiceover contradicting a lot of what she does and says onscreen. This decision sets up a whole belief for us viewers that you can’t exactly trust this protagonist, and that belief is the cornerstone of the movie’s endgame.
Once you feel like you can’t trust the narrator, the approach to Ani’s traumatic past is taken with a grain of salt, and only as it starts to unfold do you understand the importance of believing – or not – in its main character. Of course, this makes for a great twist in the story, but more than that: It completely underscores the movie’s message. Without getting into any spoilers, it suffices to say that the movie’s flashbacks flip what you think you know about the character. We get a tiny taste of being in her shoes for good (and bitter) measure.
And then it gets scary. Luckiest Girl Alive is hardly a far cry from real-life stories sadly because in today’s day and age it’s not too far-fetched to think about how willing entire communities can be to believe in a girl or woman’s “bad” reputation. And in order to tip the scales just a tiny bit in their favor, some women are often forced to build up entire picture-perfect lives for people to even consider hearing their voices. On the other hand, men get the benefit of the doubt, excuses are handed to them on a silver platter, and their entire existence is perceived as nuanced – and you definitely can’t pin them to a single mistake in life, because they are much more than that.
Which leads to another clever decision of Luckiest Girl Alive. The movie plays with our perception of innocence and forgiveness by making its worst character an unquestionable victim. And while it’s pretty easy to see to what extent that label applies once we realize their actions, the same can’t be said about real life. We’re so ready to give men a slap on the wrist that when Ani states angrily in a powerful scene that she’s a victim, too, the sentence hits hard because we forget that nuance way too often.
None of the nuance in the story would be possible without its main actor, though. Mila Kunis’ performance is hypnotic, and keeps you on the edge of your seat at every turn. You never know what she’s going to do or say, and once the movie starts wrapping up and makes the core of her behavior clear, you fully understand and relate to the character. If you finish watching Luckiest Girl Alive without feeling as angry as Ani, you didn’t watch it right.
You also can’t ignore Chiara Aurelia’s performance depicting Ani’s younger years. The young actor takes on an incredibly tough role. As the movie progresses, her character gets more and more silent, to the point at which you have to be able to see through her face to understand what’s going on in her mind, or how numb she has become to everything around her. In her storyline, there is no closure, no vindication. Aurelia nails it in every scene, most of the time without saying a word.
Mike Barker’s directorial work is as cruel as it should be. Ultimately, the movie is a series of punches to the gut, most of which you never see coming. But Barker makes us watch it, and it doesn’t feel gratuitous or only done for shock value. From its very title, Luckiest Girl Alive sends a message that not only bears repeating but demands it. Even if sometimes the movie goes a little too far in exposing Ani’s state of mind – with Kunis’ and Aurelia’s performances we certainly wouldn’t need any exposition, trust me – it reminds us that we can’t drop the ball and stop talking about how we treat and perceive women.
Luckiest Girl Alive is, plain and simple, one of the best movies of the year. It offers a career-best performance from Mila Kunis and isn’t afraid to throw salt in two giant wounds that can’t and won’t heal until we treat them with the seriousness they demand. From a narrative standpoint, it surprises and excels because it’s not interested in black-and-white characters: From its protagonist to supporting characters, everyone is flawed, and no one is let off the hook. Sometimes because it’s good for the story, other times because life’s unfair like that.
You can stream Luckiest Girl Alive now on Netflix.