File this one under films for die-hard Viola Davis fans. If you love her work, you will not be disappointed in her, but Lila and Eve leaves a lot to be desired outside of her performance. While the film is not unwatchable, it certainly commits to what it offers. I’m just not sure that what it offers is bigger or better than anything you could find on Lifetime.
Lila and Eve follows Lila Wolcott (Davis) and Eve (Jennifer Lopez), two mothers grieving the violent deaths of their children from separate incidents. Lila’s son Stephon was murdered in a drive-by shooting, and she struggles to understand why, flashing back several times to the events of the night. What could she have done differently to make him stay home? Her grief causes her to question her ability as a mother, drives her to drink, take pills, and lash out. She prays for help, and finds Eve instead.
Lila and Eve meet in a support group for mothers who have lost children, and Eve’s cynical and aggressive perspective on how to cope with loss somehow draws Lila into her calculating arms. This is not one of Lopez’s best offerings, by far, as she mostly is dragged down by poor character development and some bizarre behaviors. At the first meeting, Eve just walks out of the meeting abruptly during Lila’s turn to talk; yet Eve desires friendship. That doesn’t scream respect and friendship. No matter what Lopez does, it’s hard to determine much about her character other than that she wants capital-J Justice for her child, and is willing to do anything to get it.
So what does anything entail to Eve? Well, for starters, murder. She gains access to a gun, and Lila and Eve go to try to talk to a guy who they believe is connected to the death of Lila’s son. When I say talk, I mean they walk up to a guy they’ve never met and start demanding information. He pulls a weapon, but Eve shoots first. I was surprised that she didn’t immediately start growling, “JUSTICE,” like Batman. It was self-defense, technically, but it starts what is essentially the reign of terror that the police mistake for warring gangs that makes up two-thirds of the film: they find a lead, confront the guy, and someone pulls a weapon.
One of the most disturbing elements of the film, other than JLO’s atrocious outfits, are the ways the characters problems are both the cause and solution. I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone who was as excited by the trailer for this as I was, but it gets a little weird. Lila’s flashbacks get graphic, including a scene where she witnesses the emergency room doctors and nurses trying to save her son. Later, she hugs his lifeless, still bloodied body. The loss of her elder son makes it hard for her to face her younger one, whom she does little to support.
It’s difficult to watch these women who are clearly hurting hurt another person’s child, increasingly so as Lila’s conscious begins to question her and Eve’s actions. The community that they live in is rightfully fearful of all of the shootings happening on the streets at night, and the police become involved from the first murder, but apathy drags the process to a crawl. As a result, the dynamic duo carries out vigilante justice, and the women become the target of the lone slightly competent detective. His partner tries so hard to undermine his ideas that at times I found myself wondering if he was on the side of the drug dealers and gang members they were after.
This is a movie where a guy shouts, “Better call Saul, bitch!” and means it. As much as I don’t want to admit it, it was entertaining. About halfway through, I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat, talking right back to the screen. I wish more of the film reflected the themes that the final third espouses, that of sisterhood and respecting what women experience. If the entire film connected those dots, everything could have come together more tightly. Instead we’re left with an ultimately disappointing end to a wild ride.