Is Luckiest Girl Alive based on a true story? Real inspiration behind the Mila Kunis Netflix thriller

The shocking inspiration behind the new Netflix mystery

Mila Kunis as Ani in Luckiest Girl Alive
(Image credit: Sabrina Lantos/Netflix/Future)

The film is based on some well-known source material, but does it take inspiration from a true story - or something else?

There’s been a growing buzz around Netflix mystery thriller Luckiest Girl Alive. Now the release date for the film is here, viewers are eagerly gathering their best loungewear and tastiest snacks, to sit down and get stuck into the film. While it enjoyed a limited theatrical release, Luckiest Girl Alive lands on Netflix on Friday, October 7. With an intriguing plot involving Mila Kunis’ character Ani and her seemingly perfect life that stands on the precipice of unravelling - for reasons shrouded in mystery - those wanting to watch the film are wondering if it’s based on a true story. We have all the information you need to know, plus bonus information about those who are behind the story. 

Luckiest Girl Alive filmed across several locations - although predominantly set in New York, we reveal exactly where filming really took place. For those who have seen the film and want a recap of what happened, we have the Luckiest Girl Alive ending explained - with major spoilers! Also on Netflix, Alison Janney shines in another thriller fans are loving on the streamer. With the Lou ending explained, we tie up some loose plotlines leaving viewers confused, and weigh in on the chance of a sequel.  

Is Luckiest Girl Alive based on a true story? 

Luckiest Girl Alive is based on a book of the same name, and a true story. Although the New York Times bestselling Luckiest Girl Alive is largely a work of fiction, parts of main character Ani’s backstory are inspired by events that really happened in the author’s life.

Author of the novel Jessica Knoll, revealed in a 2016 online essay that scenes featuring Ani being raped, are based on a gang-rape she survived at the age of 15. In Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner’s LennyLetter, Knoll admitted to the real reason behind the dedication at the front of the novel, which reads “To all the TifAni FaNellis of the world, I know.” When asked if that meant there were similarities between herself and Ani personally, the author had always denied the claims, until she decided to reveal the truth about her ordeal in 2016.

According to The Guardian, Knoll was slipping in and out of consciousness at a party, when she was raped by 3 boys at 15-years-old. She later recalled “waking up later in a bathroom, seeing a toilet bowl of blood-tinged water, and not understanding where it came from”. A doctor gave her the morning after pill but refused to call the ordeal a rape. Her classmates found out, and referred to her as “slut”. Such was the backlash against her, Knoll wrote in the essay “I apologized to my rapist for calling him a rapist. What a thing to live with”. 

Knoll’s therapist when she was 22, asserted she was raped, saying it must be referred to as such. With therapy to help her come to terms with the event, Knoll concluded that she was “very, very angry”, adding “I was so conditioned to not talk about it that it didn’t even occur to me to be forthcoming. I want to make people feel like they can talk about it, like they don’t have to be ashamed of it”.

Mila Kunis as Ani, Finn Wittrock as Luke in Luckiest Girl Alive

(Image credit: Sabrina Lantos/Netflix)

What is Luckiest Girl Alive book about? 

Although the Luckiest Girl Alive book largely follows the same plot as the film, there are some differences between the two

The synopsis for the book reads “As a teenager at the prestigious Bradley School, Ani FaNelli endured a shocking, public humiliation that left her desperate to reinvent herself. Now, with a glamorous job, expensive wardrobe, and handsome blue blood fiancé, she’s this close to living the perfect life she’s worked so hard to achieve. But Ani has a secret. 

There’s something else buried in her past that still haunts her, something private and painful that threatens to bubble to the surface and destroy everything. The question remains: will breaking her silence destroy all that she has worked for—or, will it at long last, set Ani free?

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll £7.69 | Amazon

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll £7.69 | Amazon

Read the novel that is now a major Netflix film starring Mila Kunis

However, ET reports major changes between the book and the film. Ani has a very in-depth backstory in the book, which is missing in the film. The reason she ended up at the prestigious Bradley school, and the strained relationship with her parents taking strong focus in the book - are missing. Also in the book, Ani is a willing participant in the documentary, whereas in the film it appears she is coerced into it, and a little frightened by it.

Ani’s relationships with Arthur and Ben are also written differently for the film - including both character’s back stories. Therefore, the way their interactions led to, and shaped some of the shocking events in the film feel very different to how they were originally written. The biggest difference and the one fans of the book might be most upset by - is Ani's relationship with Mr. Larson. In the book, Ani has a crush on Mr Larson and he is central to flashbacks to her past. The two begin to re-develop their relationship when the documentary is being filmed. In the film, when Ani reconnects with Mr. Larson, they only briefly touch on the past and one of her central relationships is missing from the plot.  

Nicole Huff as Olivia, Alexandra Beaton as Hilary, Gage Alexander McIver Munroe as Peyton, Carson MacCormac as Young Dean, Chiara Aurelia as Young Ani, Isaac Kragten as Liam in Luckiest Girl Aliv

(Image credit: Sabrina Lantos/Netflix)

Jessica Knoll: Who is the author of Luckiest Girl Alive? 

In 2013, Jessica Knoll had left her position as editor at Cosmopolitan, and was working at Self at Condé Nast - all while working on Luckiest Girl Alive in her spare time. Once finished, the manuscript went straight into a bidding war, with many publishers vying to get hold of it. Not long afterwards, Reece Witherspoon acquired the rights to turn the book into a film. Although she hoped to work in magazines and editing alongside publishing novels, Knoll now focuses on writing novels full time. 

She has since written another book entitled The Favorite Sister. The rights for this have been bought by the producer of smash hit series Big Little Lies. She has also penned four other screenplays and a horror film that has been picked up for adaptation by Amazon.

Where is Jessica Knoll from?

Jessical Knoll is from Philadelphia. She attended and graduated from The Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania before leaving for College.

She now lives in Los Angeles with her husband and bulldog, Beatrice. Not a lot is known about her husband - she shares pictures of him on social media, but doesn’t reveal his name or any other details. However, it must be assumed he works in publishing. In an interview with Cosmopolitan, the author spoke about briefly woking at publishing house Paradigm. She said “I ended up getting an assistant job at Paradigm in the New York office. I owe my entire adult life to it because I met my husband there, I met my best friend there, and I met my lit agent there”.

What is the secret in Luckiest Girl Alive? 

The biggest secret in Luckiest Girl Alive is Ani being raped. It also transpires that she survived a shooting carried out at her school, and was forced to kill the shooter to end the attack.

Ani is raped at a party in the same way author Jessica Knoll was drugged and raped by three individuals at a party in real life. The other secret is whether or not she was involved in the school shooting. The shooter was born with psychopathic tendencies and carried out the shooting for no other reason than for fun. He also felt he was intellectually superior to his peers, and wanted rid of them for this reason also. The first victims of the shooting are the three boys who raped Ani - of whom only one survives but is horribly injured. 

There comes a point where Ani is implicated in the shooting by her surviving attacker, despite her knowing nothing about it - she only killed the shooter to prevent him killing anyone else, with no direct involvement. At the end of the story, Ani meets with her rapist who also told authorities she was responsible for the shooting, as part of the documentary. She gets him to admit the rape, and admit he lied about her involvement in the incident. She tapes the confession and is able to get justice for her rape and exonerate herself from the events surrounding the shooting.  

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Lucy Wigley
Parenting writer - contributing

Lucy is a mum-of-two, multi-award nominated writer and blogger with six years’ of experience writing about parenting, family life, and TV. Lucy has contributed content to PopSugar and In the last three years, she has transformed her passion for streaming countless hours of television into specialising in entertainment writing. There is now nothing she loves more than watching the best shows on television and sharing why you - and your kids - should watch them.