Luckiest Girl Alive Review
*This review discusses sensitive topics that may be triggering to some readers.
Over the summer, I decided I wanted to start reading again. Not that I hadn’t been reading for school and work, but the leisurely reading I engaged in as a kid slowly drifted into a forgotten activity when the business of young adult life rushed in. Summer is one of the rare times I’m able to almost catch a breath, I picked up New York Times Best Seller Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll. The novel instantly clicked with me as I was not only impressed with the clever and sharp writing but captively engrossed in the larger story about a woman who’s undergone tremendous trauma and despite being overlooked and belittled by almost everyone around her, chooses to use her voice to stand up to those same people and finally tell her story.
The book not only provided me with an entertaining and powerful story but forced me to confront my own experiences. I was even more heartbroken when I read a personal essay by the author on her website detailing horrific events that occurred when she was a teenager; events that the main character in the novel faced. This book reinforced the sheer magnitude of writing and the catharsis that’s derived from it, and as someone who wants to tell stories for the rest of her life and address topics that the media often steers away from due to their taboo nature, this book quickly became one of my favorites and one that will certainly resonate with me for the rest of my life.
When I heard that a film adaptation was coming to Netflix I was ecstatic. Much to my dismay, the film, like many book to movie adaptations, completely fell short of what made the book so dynamic. The film stars Mila Kunis whose performance as protagonist Tifani FaNelli completely embodies the character. The cunning, motivated journalist who’s so afraid of letting the past creep in until she realizes she can no longer stay silent. Chiara Aurelia plays Tifani at a younger age and though she’s on screen for a limited amount of time her performance goes lengths beyond just a one-dimensional traumatized teenage girl. The real stand-out performance goes to Thomas Barbusca who plays Ani’s childhood friend Arthur. His snark and anger perfectly encapsulate the Author from the book, although some of his best moments from the novel are not shown in the film.
Many who’ve seen Luckiest Girl Alive have remarked that the film would’ve captured the book’s essence more accurately if made into a TV series, a statement I completely agree with. For those who’ve read the book, though it’s a relatively short read, the amount of plot progression, character development, and overall narrative packed into one novel simply could not be translated accurately in an almost 2-hour run time. As a result almost every moment in the film feels rushed. Jumpy editing and lazily executed cinematography suck the life out of this compelling story and replace it with an abundance of loose threads all meant to tie together in the film’s final act but remain unresolved or at the most lightly touched upon.
A pivotal example of this is Mr. Larson played by Scoot McNairy who’s prominence in the book (though sometimes problematic) played a great deal in shaping Ani’s story and her ultimate decision to take the steps necessary to share her story. He appears only a select amount of times towards the film’s beginning in flashbacks and when Ani and her finance run into him again. After he and Ani’s lackluster heart-to-heart in the present part of the film he is barely mentioned and never seen again. It truly feels that outside of her best friend Nell, played by Justine Lupe, another character the film managed to get shockingly right, Ani has no allies in telling her story. Even the director of the documentary revolving around another horrible event at Ani’s high school seems miscalculated and selfish in the film, only hoping to get his pretty picture rather than vindicate Ani, which is not how he appeared in the book. The book makes it evident that the ones who are closest to Ani are against her being her mother and her fiance.
In the film, her fiance is not nearly as cruel or unsupportive as the film even changes the way their wedding is called off, a riveting and intense moment from the book that’s reduced to a shallow emotional fallout in the film. So many pinnacles of the book are completely changed or ignored to the point where the film’s message is staggeringly altered.
The pressure on Ani to tell her story and to not tell her story as well as the flashbacks that gatekeep her younger self into shutting herself off, completely misdirect the message the novel illustrated perfectly and comes off as almost victim blaming as if Ani doesn’t tell her story she’s doing a disservice to all the women who’ve experienced similar adversities to her. When dealing with such heavy issues like rape and sexual assault, there is already such a stigmatized view on those who’ve survived such harrowing and traumatic experiences, and we don’t need to further the pain by faulting the victim of a heinous, violating crime that isn’t even taken seriously in the eys of our law enforcement. Survivors’ stories are their own, they’re not entitled to public consumption and it’s up to the individual to decide if they want to speak out or not. As the film notes towards its end, hundreds of other women have stories that have gone untold as Ani publishes an essay detailing the atrocities committed against her and a surge of comments remind her that she is not alone.
The upsetting truth is: rape is the most unreported crime as 63% of sexual assaults are never reported to authorities due to the immense victim-blaming that takes place as well as men rarely being held responsible for crimes of this nature. Luckiest Girl Alive, the book, remains an incredible resource for women who’ve gone through similar experiences as well as a wake-up call for others to listen to victim’s stories and grant them the validation they deserve. As for the film, its convoluted and misleading narrative will forever be a misstep as it taints a story that could have easily been one of the most powerful films in Netflix’s catalog.
This should not distract from the wonderful material in the book. However, Luckiest Girl Alive will continue to speak to thousands of people worldwide and serve as a guiding light for those feeling lost after encountering a situation that no one should ever have to go through. I know it did for me, I can only hope the novel expands its reach and touches the hearts of even more readers in the years to come.