In case you didn't already know, Viola Davis is kinda amazing. While many love her in her more high-profile roles in movies like The Help and How to Get Away with Murder, I have always preferred her work in the more seldom talked about movies like Doubt and The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them, which give her a chance to play flawed, complex characters that are not always likable. And that's just what I liked about her new film, LILA & EVE.
While it could have easily been a pretty great Lifetime movie of the week, what LILA & EVE has going for it is that it's not what you expect. It has a clever twist and offers subtle commentary that allows it to be more than just a maternal revenge flick. Davis plays Lila, a mother mourning the loss of her murdered son, while Jennifer Lopez is Eve, a woman dealing with the loss of her young daughter. The two meet at a grief support group and Lila instantly bonds with the somewhat rebellious Eve, who refuses to play victim and shed a single tear. Instead, she dons a tough demeanor and fierce attitude, becoming her own hero in the process. In other words, she's everything Lila isn't.
Their vulnerable emotions get the best of them one night when they encounter one of the perpetrators behind Lila's son's murder and impulsively kill him. Thus sets off the plot that only spirals for the two main characters from there. What's most interesting about it, as I alluded to above, is that it goes beyond the trope to yield a story that is surprisingly feminist. The fact that these two women take justice into their own hands shows a female agency (particularly one featuring two women of color) too rarely seen in studio films these days (ironically, this was more often seen in films from past decades). Usually it's the male character (like Kevin Bacon in Death Sentence, for instance) who exhibits this kind of malignant authority. And LILA & EVE is very aware of that. In fact, there's a scene that hints at the fact that women killers are seen as less plausible than their counterparts.
But despite its aforementioned commentary and Davis's rich lead performance that aggravates the three stages of grief theory (actually even Lopez holds her own here, and I usually never understand her appeal), the film falters a bit towards the end. The extraordinary circumstances further spiral beyond belief, resulting in a conclusion that leaves much to be desired. Which is a shame because the twist pulls you in, but director Charles Stone III (and screenwriter Pat Gilfillan) aren't able to sustain it by the final scene.
LILA & EVE is available on VOD and opens in theaters in New York City, Los Angeles and other top markets on July 17.
Rating: B- (*** out of *****)
Watch the trailer: