It’s been over 20 years since the fatal Columbine incident at a high school which shocked the entire world. As these tragic incidents continue to occur in such a way that they are ubiquitous and an entire generation of children have been raised in the wake of them, Hollywood has found in these events a new venue for films dealing with an ongoing trauma from high school. There’s a resemblance between every compassionate or nuanced film, such as “The Fallout,” there’s an exploitative film such as “The Desperate Hour.”
Worse “Luckiest Girl Alive,” the most recent of these films , falls in the second category. Based on the novel that has the same title of Jessica Knoll, who also is screenwriter, the film is not only a dramatization of an incident at school that is in bad taste, but it also uses an actual backdrop as it also plays with rape trauma for the sake of female boss feminism.
In a tone that is straight in the film “Gone Girl,” the film follows the life that seems perfect for Ani (Mila Kunis) she is a writer for a glam women’s magazine called The Woman’s Bible. She’s published “1,500 stories about how to give a blow job” however all she would like is to be a part of The New York Times Magazine so she can be “someone people can respect.” Ani is married with an elderly money-spinster called Luke (Finn Wittrock who has no obligations) which is more of a checkbox for Ani’s unquestioned social credibility as much as any other person.
Her ambition to be the undisputed wealthy person comes from her time in high school. As a scholarship student from an elite pre-school located in Philadelphia, Ani, then was known by the name of Tiff (Chiara Aurelia) was a survivors of one of the “deadliest private school shooting in U.S. history.” This shooting occurred in 1999 (the exact year of Columbine) in addition to the film’s revelation about which perpetrators it was are just one of the many extremely tasteless choices it makes. This is quite different from the entire thing is comprised of tasteless choices.
Through flashbacks, and Ani’s narration (which is used haphazardly throughout the film as her cynical inner thoughts and an interview she did for an upcoming documentary, and a draft of a piece she wrote in the film’s final scene) We learn about a survivor, who is now a gun reform advocate who claims Ani was involved in the massacre, but also that this is the same survivor who was among three classmates who were gang-raped by Ani at an after-party at the school dance within a few weeks of the shooting. To get the”he said-she-said” battle, Ani aims to climb to the highest social ladder and reveal her perspective.
Despite the shocking nature of the story along with Mike Barker’s brutal block of the rape scene, Aurelia is a master in demonstrating the pain of Ani, her anxiety during the rape, her confusion immediately after, and then her the hesitation to reveal because of shame she has internalized. What if the earlier Ani was Kunis had room to express more nuance. Instead her PTSD is revealed as manifesting in bloody visions or stabbing her boyfriend (whose the status of her social circle constantly makes her think of her former raptors) as well as her violent inner thoughts.
Ani is also, logically angry with Her mother Dina (Connie Britton) over her actions, which are revealed slowly through flashbacks. But, her anger manifests itself in attacks on her mother’s lower socioeconomic status. Ani’s wedding dress was purchased made by Saks 5th Avenue (the one located on 5th Avenue! ) however, she informs her wealthy family and acquaintances that she buys her clothes with T.J. Maxx. The film cannot help to poke fun at Dina struggling to fit in to the world of upper-echelon status that her daughter is now in by putting her in a dress with hilariously high heels and sayings about “Say Yes to the Dress” and a sloppy pronunciation of Italian.
Her mother’s financial status is always at the forefront of her mind in her teen years, and so is her grit. Dina’s motive for her daughter’s decision to go to an exclusive school initially was to put her in the same room as wealthy men. In the event that this plan resulted in her being assaulted, Dina places the blame on Ani for violating her rules regarding drinking alcohol. It’s obvious that the principle Ani carried into adulthood is that the privileged males can do whatever they like and walk away with impunity, except when they are on playing on the field. In the event that there was criticism of class, instead there is the aspirational need to be among the elite. As if only the rich can be a problem.
It’s also not entirely clear what type of writer Ani was hoping to become prior to she began writing “skanky” stuff, as her boss LoLo (Jennifer Beals) refers to her work in this women’s magazine. The desire to see her writing featured in an old institution like that of the New York Times comes from the same place that she wants to be a part of an old-fashioned family so that people understand that they don’t “have money, they came from money.” Also this is a missed opportunity to truly examine the power and class dynamics and also to look at gender roles within the media industry beyond the superficial level.
After being left out for the majority of the film Beals returns to give Ani an inspirational speech about “authenticity” and the importance of exposing the people in her life who did not help her in her teenage years. It is then her turn to share her perspective on this story, in the form of her own personal words. In normal circumstances, this part of the film would be a moment of triumph however, it’s when that you are aware “Luckiest Girl Alive” has made use of school shootings as well as sexual assault trauma to craft an auto-realization story that is a tale of Ani discovering value not in the expression of her emotional repressed feelings in her writing, but rather in the superficial success of popularity on the internet.
Ani suffered the wrath of the shooter certainly however, as were all the children who lost their lives through the shooting, or changed forever due to the trauma it caused. However, the film is so intensely focused on Ani’s suffering but it’s almost like it’s saying that the death of others were justifiable (it certainly delights in displaying the horrific details of their deaths). The last scene places the traumatic experience of rape victims as well as victims of shootings as being in competition to be the focus of attention of the nation and the ability to make a difference.
The flashbacks to the school scene where Ani’s empathetic English instructor the character Mr. Larson (an underused Scoot McNairy) complements her assessment about Holden Caulfield as an unreliable narration suggests that the filmmakers would like us to think of Ani as equally untrustworthy because she’s centered herself in the story. What does this mean? Does it mean that the film’s narrow view of different traumas is just due to the fact that it’s told from the perspective of Ani’s biased perspective? It could be, but it does not make the use that of school violence to provide the backdrop for her personal journey less savage.
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