A teenage girl deferring college for a year starts a blog depicting her bad choices.
Ask Me Anything
Based on the 2009 young adult novel “Undiscovered Gyrl” and directed by the book’s author, Allison Burnett, Ask Me Anything is the brash-but-not-bold tale of a recent high school graduate deferring college to make poor relationship decisions instead. Starring Britt Robertson (Dan in Real Life, the upcoming Tomorrowland) as Katie Kampenfelt, the film begins with Katie’s deferment of college and her high school guidance counselor’s suggestion that she start a blog in order to better work through what she’s actually searching for. The film has the openness of the blogging format (a la MTV’s show Awkward), but its twist ending and unreliable narrative make for a mixed-up and confusing viewing experience with very little takeaway.
Katie starts her anonymous blog explicitly detailing in as nonchalant a way as possible her thoughts on life as they pertain to her. Immediately we discover she has a boyfriend, Rory (Max Carver), but is more concerned with her ongoing tryst with a community college film professor, Dan (Justin Long), who is about 15 years older than her. Her mother (Molly Hagan) has a moustached boyfriend (Andy Buckley), and demonstrates a lack of interest or insight in her daughter’s life. Her father (Robert Patrick) is a sofa-bound alcoholic, whose death she seems always to be preparing for. She gets a great job at a bookstore with a wise boss to guide her (Martin Sheen) and then has to drop the job almost immediately when mom’s cop boyfriend discovers her boss has a sexual assault history. A new job drops into her lap in the form of Paul Spooner (Christian Slater), who needs a nanny to aid his wife (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) with their newborn.
When Dan moves and shrugs off Katie for his age-appropriate girlfriend, she spirals out of control, breaking up with and then dangling her boyfriend for attention. More predictably, she promptly allows a flirtation and then affair to happen between her and Paul. It’s one bad decision after the next and we might be able to feel some iota of sympathy for Katie if her issues weren’t just so obvious and remorseless. Burnett tries to build a deeper connection, throwing a seemingly random, clinically depressed, old high school acquaintance into Katie’s life to ask her the deep questions she won’t ask herself, including those about sexual abuse as a child. Old home footage of her childhood play out on-screen whenever Katie engages in sex in an overt attempt to express her sex use as a form of escape and to feel significant. It’s not especially affective in off-setting the sense of fantasy in this girl’s world. It’s hard to take her seriously or care about her decisions when every adult in her world is given plenty of opportunity to intervene and then doesn’t.
This especially works against the film’s ending, which I won’t spoil, but will say is very much trying to make a point about perspective, voyeurism, and teenagers in the digital age, but only succeeds in leaving us feeling lied to and taken advantage of. I get the point of it, what Burnett was hoping to achieve, but think there might have been a better way to get there other than dumping a ton of emotion into the last 10 minutes.
With such a promising cast, it very much seems that this film should have been able to go further. But here we have a case of too much reliance on emotional connection to the writing, and whereas the novel’s quirky blog style and adorable typos helped teenagers build a rapport with Katie, the film doesn’t feel like a blog, it feels like a look into the life of a person determined to choose wrong and with no desire to have anyone tell them not to.
Burnett has proven he has writing down, having written several screenplays and multiple best-selling novels, but the bond between reader and character is most definitely not the same as the bond between character and viewer. And this attempt at page-to-screen just doesn’t seem to entirely translate.
Ask Me Anything opens in LA and in VOD on Friday Dec. 19th.