Davis and Lopez Shoot Through ‘Lila & Eve’

by Scott Pewenofkit on July 17, 2015

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Minor Rock Fist Up]

Lila & Eve, opening today at Cinetopia in Kansas City, is an interesting exploitation/psychodrama about a grieving mother who takes the law into her own hands after her son is killed in a drive-by shooting. For such an outlandish film, Viola Davis and Jennifer Lopez give very understated performances that lend Lila & Eve a certain amount of grit and edge to a movie that manages to work its B-grade peculiarities into something unique. This is mostly achieved by Lopez’s surprising performance as a violent miscreant whose impulsive actions drive the film’s plot. Countering Lopez,  Davis’s transformation from a timid, grieving mother, into a revenge-seeking coldblooded killer is convincingly subtle. Lila & Eve is a fun ride if you’re willing to forgive its ludicrously unbelievable plot and recognize it for the pulpy, deranged film that it is.

To fully explain why Lila & Eve is such a strangely enjoyable psychodrama would be to spoil the film’s single, cliched, albeit surprising, plot twist. The film’s pseudo-serious tone announces itself in a sensationalistic crash of broken glass and gunfire when Lila’s oldest son (Aml Ameem) is suddenly gunned down while walking down a busy sidewalk in Atlanta late one night. Some time later, we meet a grieving Lila at a support group for mothers whose children have been killed with guns. Eve blends into the circle of grieving mothers, but gets Lila’s attention. After the meeting, Eve becomes Lila’s sponsor, and the two women, drawn to each other by a hardened, cynical attitude about the way they’ve been treated as mothers who’ve lost children, quickly form an odd couple that almost immediately sets out to seek revenge against the killer of Lila’s son. Eve becomes a kind of antisocial agent of change in Lila’s life, drawing out of her a callousness that drives her to shoot her way through a series of mostly convincing bad guy drug dealer types in order to eradicate the group of people who feed into the perpetual cycle of violence and drugs that Lila’s son was caught up in.

The local detective (Shea Wigham) assigned to investigate her son’s death is always conveniently one step behind Lila as she and Eve set out for revenge. Wigham is so convincingly gruff in his role that he could be consigned to an entire career of playing the stock detective he plays in Lila & Eve, and he would still do great work.

Davis and Lopez, two Hollywood actresses who have worked hard to surround themselves with an aura of artistic seriousness, inadvertently thumb their noses at the establishment they’ve worked hard at gaining acceptance from, by making a delightful piece of trash that can be enjoyed on its own terms.

The best part of Lila & Eve is Lopez as Eve, the Support Group Sponsor from Hell. Eve is the kind of revenge-seeking B-movie girl from films like I Spit on Your Grave and Last House on the Left whose rage and sense of victimhood are palpable. Lopez channels a peculiar kind of seething bitterness that can be read in the tension in her face. As she pushes Lila to commit more and more violence, we recognize Eve, up to a certain point in the film, as the driving force behind all of the bloodshed. As Lila tries to convince Eve that they should stop killing, Eve asks a question that suggests Lila’s slipping mental state: “You really think you can just go back?”

The best scene in the film occurs when Lila and Eve climb their way up the chain of command and find one of the top dealers in the organization that was responsible for killing her son. The dealer they encounter, Alanzo (Chris Chalk), pushes back against Lila and Eve when they demand to know who took Lila’s son’s life. It is at this point that the hardening of Lila’s personality is complete. Viola Davis almost achieves B-movie greatness when she convincingly holds her own against Alanzo, her exterior now hardened, Eve at her side, demanding of her, “We gotta finish what we started, or they’re gonna finish us.”

Lila & Eve is a simple revenge fantasy with a plot twist that comes from out of nowhere, but somehow finds its way into the larger narrative with the ease and confidence of a bad movie convinced of its own ability to tell a good story. As a viewer, you know you’ve got a ludicrously entertaining film when one outlandish, cliched plot element falls out of the sky and plops itself into the film roughly two-thirds in, and it somehow works. Enjoy Lila & Eve as an entertainingly bad film that cannot be taken the least bit seriously.

In addition to reviewing movies for Scene-Stealers, Scott is also the creator and editor of FourthCinema: A Journal of Native American Film, which can be read at fourthcinema.wordpress.com

He uses what little spare time he has trying to convince people that Billy Madison is a coming-of-age story on par with The 400 Blows.

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