“Luckiest Girl Alive” has a lot going on, in a way that undermines the movie’s translation from book to screen. Mila Kunis produces and stars in this #MeToo-tinged story, which awkwardly incorporates a mass school shooting as well as gender and class politics into what becomes an ungainly mix of hot-button issues in one dramatic package.
Kunis plays Ani FaNelli, a have-it-all magazine journalist close to landing her dream job at the New York Times and marrying her wealthy boyfriend Luke (Finn Wittrock), although there’s tension over whether her professional aspirations will have to take a back seat to his higher-paying career.
A documentarian, however, is again asking thorny questions about the school shooting that happened when Ani was attending the prestigious Brentley School, bringing memories flooding back about the sexual assault she experienced there, at the time receiving little support from her social-climbing mother (Connie Britton, reduced to a caricature).
Chiara Aurelia portrays the young Ani, whose ordeal is graphically shown during the steady stream of flashbacks that assail her older self. Those unflinching sequences recall “13 Reasons Why,” another Netflix production built around a high-school rape and pressures on a teen girl to remain silent.
Here, the dilemma about what to say resurfaces for the grownup Ani, especially with one of her attackers having achieved a measure of fame, and fear that speaking out will somehow derail the yellow-brick road to high-society life that looms ahead of her. As the handsomely clueless Luke puts it, why address “this thing that happened to you so long ago.”
As constructed, unfortunately, in an adaptation of the book written by its author, Jessica Knoll, and directed by Mike Barker, “Luckiest Girl Alive” feels as if it’s juggling too many plates – joining the story in progress and laboring to connect the mass shooting to Ani’s story in a way that muddles the mystery. The lack of insight about the true-crime genre that helps drive the narrative – that is, the documentary within the movie – also represents a missed opportunity.
While Kunis and Aurelia convey Ani’s anguish, there’s a stick-figure quality to the supporting players, a roster that includes Jennifer Beals as her hard-charging editor, with the exception of a caring teacher (Scoot McNairy) who comes back into Ani’s life.
On its face, the combination of a high-profile lead, bestselling book and provocative subject matter sounds like the sort of formula that yields dividends for Netflix, and the movie still might. But “Luckiest Girl Alive” falls short of its promise, a reminder that, however ironic the title is intended to be, fortune tends to favor the bold.
“Luckiest Girl Alive” premieres October 7 on Netflix.