By Sneha Jaiswal (Twitter | Instagram)

Censorship is a writer’s worst fear, but the most brutal kind of critic is often the self. Before our words are scanned by a second pair of eyes, we unconsciously or deliberately write a version of things we think would be most palatable to our reader. And so, one of the most powerful scenes in the 2022 Netflix film ‘Luckiest Girl Alive’ isn’t delivered by its protagonist Ani, but by her editor Lolo, who fiercely admonishes her for penning a half-arsed personal op-ed about a traumatic event.

Directed by Mike Barker, ‘Luckiest Girl Alive’ is based on a novel written by Jessica Knoll. It stars Mila Kunis as Ani, a journalist who has built a picture-perfect life for her in New York, but finds herself unraveling when a true-crime documentary director pursues her for her version of a mass-shooting that took place in her school. Who is Ani? Victim? Survivor? Or co-conspirator? The film is a thriller of sorts, which flits between the past and present to tell a compelling story of gun violence, sexual abuse and class privilege.

While Mila Kunis plays the older Ani who seems to have her life under control, Chiara Aurelia is her younger, vulnerable version, a scholarship student who lives through hell in a private school ruled by rich kids. Kunis’ Ani is nothing like the typical ‘victim’ we are used to seeing in films and tv, she has a thriving writing career, is engaged to a wealthy successful man and constantly delivers bitchy inner monologues about things around her. Not the kind of character everybody can take a shine to, but it makes for an interesting change in narrative.

‘Luckiest Girl Alive’ is essentially a dark tale, however the cinematography makes space for some beautiful frames, with some sunny scenic outdoor spots serving as canvass for crucial exchanges. The transitions between the past and present are cleverly shot. That said, there are also some graphic scenes of sexual violence, scenes that made me flinch and turn away from the screen. However, unlike some movies where the insertion of such sexual scenes feel extremely exploitative (Netflix’s Blonde for example), in this film it aids in making Ani’s trauma more visceral and terrifying.

Chiara Aurelia surpasses Kunis in delivering the emotionally charged role of a teen who is broken by an unfair system. The film brilliantly brings out the conundrum faced by sexual abuse victims regardless of their social status, the ones who are poor can’t hope to win and the affluent don’t want to lose their social standing. Unless the victim has a watertight case, both the real and emotional costs of a legal battle don’t seem ‘worth it’ to most. At least Ani gets her moment in the sun and the film comes to close on an optimistic note, with a final bitchy parting shot by the protagonist.

It’s a 7.5/10 from me.

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