‘Lila and Eve’: Sundance Review

Courtesy of Sundance International Film Festival
Viola Davis and Jennifer Lopez in 'Lila and Eve'
An instant camp classic, especially because it takes itself so adorably seriously

Viola Davis and Jennifer Lopez play bereaved mothers bent on vengeance in this psychological thriller from director Charles Stone III

Lila and Eve stars Viola Davis as a mother grieving over her dead son, who teams up with another bereaved mother, played by Jennifer Lopez, to seek revenge on the gangsters responsible. It’s an instant camp classic, especially because it takes itself so adorably seriously. It will be the perfect film for girlfriends of both genders to watch together in giggling gaggles when it screens eventually on Lifetime, one of the film’s producing partners. Viewers may enjoy devising drinking games that involve doing shots every time our avenging angels whack some dude, or glugging a glass of wine whenever there’s a patently obvious clue leading to the film’s big silly climactic twist.

In truth, star/executive producer Davis nearly ruins the fun, the big spoilsport, by projecting such quiet dignity as a woman racked with pain. But even she can’t save this hot, nonsensical mess. Plus Lopez, her one-time castmate from Out of Sight,is on hand with her Acting Face and meticulously applied, please-take-me-seriously no-make-up make-up to suck any claims the film might have to serious drama right out of the air. For Jenny from the Block, this is her second go round as a woman hell-bent on vengeance after the deliciously ludicrous Enough (2002). They should have made this an outright sequel and called it Enough, Already.

Davis plays Lila, a working single mother in a rough Atlanta neighborhood whose eldest son Stephon (Aml Ameen) is about to go off to college when he’s killed accidentally in a drive-by shooting. Lila falls to bits, and can barely cope with looking after her remaining teenage son Justin (Ron Caldwell). The police show precious little enthusiasm for finding Stephon’s murderer, and just to add insult to injury, Holliston (Shea Whigham, Boardwalk Empire), the detective in charge of the case, barely remembers who Lila is when she comes in to speak to him. But it's made clear later that he’s not really such a bad guy because he likes Columbo, and makes fun of his partner Scaketti (Andre Royo) for using big words, and we all know people with large vocabularies are snobs who have to be taken down a peg, right?

In search of solace, Lila joins a kind of 12-step support group for bereaved woman that has some kind of super-treacly name like “Mothers of New Angels.” There, Lila approaches Eve (Lopez), a former interior decorator who shares Lila’s anger and frustration with the police's ineffectualness. Eve agrees to become Lila’s sponsor for the group, and over glasses of red wine one night, the women find a gun in Justin’s book bag. Lila is horrified, but Eve eggs her on to go to the drug-dealing corner where Stephon was killed to look for someone who might know who shot him.

Against all statistical probability, they find someone, Donelle (Germaine Brooks), a good-for-nothing connected to the dealers higher up the chain who ordered the drive-by. And before you can say “Thelma and Louise,” Donelle pulls a gun and Eve shoots him to save Lila’s life. But instead of riding off towards the Grand Canyon, the women stay put. There’s Justin to think of, after all, although Lila demonstrates a pretty irresponsible attitude towards parenting by leaving him home alone a lot as she and Eve embark on a vigilante quest to hunt down more dealers.

Director Charles Stone III, whose previous feature was the fairly well-regarded marching-band movie Drumline (2002), isn’t the worst offender in this, although the direction here is fairly anonymous, pedestrian and drab. The script, credited to Patrick Gilfillan, on the other hand, is tawdry Versace gown made of sequins, double-sided tit tape and clichés, with a light rub of early David Fincher plot mechanics. For fans of tacky cinema, it’s a gift that keeps on giving, especially when it serves up scenes like the one where Lila and Eve take a break from their quest of vengeance to redecorate Lila’s living room, prompting, of all things, a wallpapering montage.

Production companies: A Lifetime Films, ChickFlicks, JuVee production
Cast:Viola Davis, Jennifer Lopez, Shea Whigham, Chris Chalk, Julius Tennon, Andre Royo, Aml Ameen, Yolonda Ross, Diarra Kilpatrick, Ron Caldwell, Michole Briana White
Director: Charles Stone III
Screenwriter: Patrick Gilfillan
Producers: Sara Risher, Darrin Reed
Executive producers: Viola Davis, Julius Tennon, Lisa Hamilton Daly, Rob Sharenow, Tanya Lopez, Molly Thompson, Damian Ganczewski
Director of photography: Wyatt Garfield
Production designer: Kara Lindstrom
Costume designer: Ane Crabtree
Editor: Robert K. Lambert
Music: Alexis & Sam
Casting: Vickie Thomas, Lila and Eve
Sales: A&E Studios

No rating, 93 minutes

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