×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sundance Film Review: ‘Lila and Eve’

Viola Davis and Jennifer Lopez play a pair of grieving mothers in this gritty vigilante thriller.

With:
Viola Davis, Jennifer Lopez, Shea Whigham, Chris Chalk, Julius Tennon, Andre Royo, Aml Ameen, Yolonda Ross, Diarra Kilpatrick, Ron Caldwell, Michole Briana White.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3442990/

When the cops don’t show enough interest in a drive-by shooting, a pair of grieving mothers take matters into their own hands in “Lila and Eve,” a vigilante thriller with a twist: Featuring an awards-caliber performance from Viola Davis and flavorful support from Jennifer Lopez (“Guess I’ll get my Tina on!” she barks, imagining her pop idol strong enough to smack back at an abusive Ike Turner), this gritty drama from Lifetime Films plays best on the bigscreen, which is how it premiered the second Friday of Sundance, though it’ll take some savvy positioning to draw its ideal audience of middle-aged women.

Add to that a younger contingent who don’t take J.Lo’s acting career all that seriously — those connoisseurs of camp who helped push “The Boy Next Door” to a nearly $15 million opening last weekend — and there’s a substantial audience out there for this cleverly conceived, earnestly executed throwback to late-’80s female-driven thrillers. The film opens solemnly enough, with a room full of mourning mothers reciting the Serenity Prayer (with its emphasis on empowerment: “God grant me the … courage to change the things I can”), while director Charles Stone III re-creates the street-corner skirmish that deprived public-records worker Lila (Davis) of her oldest son, 18-year-old Stephon (Aml Ameen).

She’s taking it hard, but that’s no surprise. Some mothers lose their minds over a tragedy this profound, and Stone rubs it in with more flashbacks than anyone needs to feel as though we know the dead young man. Still, Lila seems more stable than that. She appears rational — at least, that’s how she comes across after the movie has accommodated several early brink-of-despair sobbing moments with which to demonstrate not only the depth of Lila’s grief, but also the caliber of the actress chosen to play the part. Because let’s face it: Davis is the reason this movie stands to be something more than a straight-to-oblivion telepic. We feel her pain, and we want to see justice done.

Popular on Variety

That’s where Lopez comes in, playing Eve, a more thinly drawn character who hangs out on the periphery of Lila’s “Mothers of Young Angels” support-group meetings. Therapy tends to go better with a sponsor, but Eve has issues. She’s more interested in getting even than in moving on, and she pushes Lila to pick up where the police investigation left off. The cops barely tried to solve the case, but these two ladies have no trouble locating the drug dealer who works the corner where Stephon was murdered. The plan is to interrogate the guy and then pass along whatever clues he provides to the authorities, but Eve gets trigger-happy, and the next thing they know, the thug is dead and they’re no better than the person responsible for their kids’ deaths. After all, now they carry the blood of another mother’s son on their hands.

But instead of stopping there, they carry on the investigation themselves, working their way up the ladder of the entire drug-dealing organization. At first, amid all the silky-looking film’s dark corners and deftly handled cuts, it’s unclear whether Stephon was an innocent bystander or somehow mixed up in the illegal activity, although that ambiguity — indeed, all the film’s ambiguities — have been deliberate, asking audiences to question whether they’re holding the teen to certain unfair stereotypes.

Helming his first potentially theatrical feature in more than a decade (a curious setback after launching his career with 2002’s high-energy, high-polish “Drumline”), Stone seems determined to challenge stereotypes. Even though both the cops (Shea Whigham and “The Wire’s” Andre Royo) and the various bad guys seem to come straight out of central casting, Stone takes real measures to treat the two title characters not just as a pair of empowered-female roles, but as role models. All those flashbacks serve to illustrate the kind of attentive, engaged mother that Lila was (also true of scenes with her second son, Ron Caldwell, whereas we never meet Eve’s missing daughter), so that even as their score-settling behavior escalates to its explosive finale, the character is not without redemption.

It also tosses in a late-movie plot development that, while hardly necessary, should generate considerable word-of-mouth excitement. Turns out that the entire time Lila and Eve have been playing kickass Tina-Terminators, there has been a second agenda unfolding behind the scenes — one that at least partially excuses the way Lopez’s turn comes across so much phonier than the work she did in movies like “Selena” and “Out of Sight” nearly two decades ago. These days, she seems so much more self-conscious on camera, as if trying to look glamorous in her fur-lined coat and ever-changing hair.

Davis, by contrast, has an uncanny raw-nerve approach. Her character experiences misgivings at every step of the way, which invite the deeper level of consideration this lean genre exercise is designed to support. While it’s entertaining to see these two ladies blast their way up the chain of corruption, that’s not a terribly practical coping mechanism for those who are dealing with the tragedy of losing a child in the real world — although Davis’ performance is so good here, it’s tough to know where the real world ends and the vendetta fantasy begins.

Sundance Film Review: 'Lila and Eve'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 30, 2015. Running time: 94 MIN.

Production: A Lifetime Films presentation of a Chickflicks, JuVee Prods. production. (International sales: CAA/Annapurna, Los Angeles.) Produced by Sara Risher, Darrin Reed. Executive producers, Viola Davis, Julius Tennon, Lisa Hamilton Daly, Rob Sharenow, Tanya Lopez, Molly Thompson, Damian Ganczewski.

Crew: Directed by Charles Stone III. Screenplay, Patrick Gilfillan. Camera (color), Wyatt Garfield; editor, Robert K. Lambert; music, Alexis & Sam; music supervisors, Frankie Pine, Mandi Collier; production designer, Kara Lindstrom; art director, Rosa Palomo; set decorator, Javed Noorullah; costume designer, Ane Crabtree; sound (Dolby Digital), Paul Sorohan; supervising sound editor, Rob Webber; re-recording mixers, Patrick Ciccone, Joel Catalan; visual effects supervisor, Sean Thigpen; visual effects, Wunderfilm, Stargate Studios; special effects coordinator, Bob Shelley; stunt coordinator, Guss Williams; line producer, Gary Guidice; associate producer, Fritzi Horstman; assistant director, Joe Suarez; casting, Vickie Thomas.

With: Viola Davis, Jennifer Lopez, Shea Whigham, Chris Chalk, Julius Tennon, Andre Royo, Aml Ameen, Yolonda Ross, Diarra Kilpatrick, Ron Caldwell, Michole Briana White.

More Film

  • ROAD TRIP – In Disney and

    Disney Boasts a Bevy of Hopefuls for Oscar's Original Song Race

    When the Academy announces its shortlist for song nominations on Dec. 16, you can be certain that at least one Disney song will be on it and probably more. Disney songs have been nominated 33 times in the past 30 years, winning 12 of the gold statuettes. This year, the studio has at least four [...]

  • Innovative Scores Elevated the Year's Documentaries

    Innovative Scores Elevated the Year's Documentaries

    It’s next to impossible for a documentary score to be Oscar-nominated alongside the dozens of fictional narratives entered each year. But it did happen, just once: In 1975, composer Gerald Fried was nominated for his music for “Birds Do It, Bees Do It,” a documentary on the mating habits of animals. Fried, now 91, perhaps [...]

  • Ron Leibman, Jessica Walter'Mary Stuart' Play

    Ron Leibman, Tony-Winning Actor Known for 'Angels in America' and 'Friends,' Dies at 82

    Ron Leibman, an Emmy-winning actor who garnered a Tony for his work in Broadway’s “Angels in America” and played the father of Jennifer Aniston’s Rachel Green on “Friends,” died on Friday. He was 82. Robert Attermann, CEO of Abrams Artists Agency, confirmed the news to Variety. No further details were immediately available. Leibman, a native [...]

  • After Parkland Documentary

    Documentaries Made in the Aftermath of Crime Tread a Careful Path

    Every year, documentaries that examine crimes are made. Some, such as Ezra Edelman’s “O.J.: Made in America,” Joshua Rofe’s “Lorena” and most recently Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg’s “The Preppy Murder: Death in Central Park,” study a single crime decades after the fact in hopes of establishing a greater clarity and understanding of traumatic events. [...]

  • Luca Guadagnino

    Luca Guadagnino on 'Call Me By Your Name' Sequel, His Childhood, Cinema Philosophy

    At the Marrakech Film Festival to give a masterclass, Italian master Luca Guadagnino spoke about the way he envisioned the sequel to “Call Me By Your Name,” as well as shared memories about his childhood and his vision of filmmaking. Guadagnino said that while the script of “Call Me By Your Name” is “strongly faithful” [...]

  • 700700 + Ted Turner Dedication. December

    Ted Turner Tributes Established With WarnerMedia Gift to University of Georgia

    WarnerMedia has established a scholarship, internship program and exhibition hall at the University of Georgia to be named after maverick media mogul Ted Turner. The company has gifted $550,000 to the university to create the Ted Turner Scholarship Fund, for students attending the school’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, which is also the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content