Ask Me Anything‘s cover art and description on Netflix are deceiving. The cover displays star Britt Robertson (Tomorrowland, Under the Dome) haphazardly wearing a man’s shirt and tie with a disheveled bed behind her and a befuddled, “look what I’ve gotten myself into” expression on her face. Netflix’s elevator pitch plot description reads: “On a yearlong break between high school and college, a teenager writes an anonymous but highly revealing blog chronicling her sex life.” Rounding out the misdirection is the tagline: “Young, not so innocent.”
Everything about this first impression of Ask Me Anything is that it’s a raunchy sex comedy. However, this movie is far from that and maybe that’s the point. Ask Me Anything is an indie drama about a troubled girl coming of age while working through a surprising amount of inner conflict. Based on the novel Undiscovered Gyrl by Allison Burnett, the movie (written and directed by the author) gives the viewer a fully formed view of a confused girl making poor decisions and how she reacts to the fallout of those choices.
Katie’s (Robertson) sexual escapades aren’t punctuated with hilarious punch lines or otherwise over the top antics. Her sexual awakening of sorts is more the external representation of her private reconciliation with personal issues. These issues aren’t disclosed to the viewer until the movie is well underway, but the way Burnett’s storytelling lays the groundwork for the more troubling character developments is spectacular.
Katie is attracted to a certain “type” of guy, but she isn’t promiscuous in an empowering way. She explores the deeper troubles plaguing her as she takes on new lovers and revisits old ones. The beauty in the storytelling is that the viewer explores her issues along with her. By blogging about her experiences throughout the movie, Katie becomes aware of why she makes certain choices at the same moments the audience makes these connections as well.
In this way, Ask Me Anything forges a connection between the viewer and the protagonist. You’re drawn into Katie’s life and feel as if you have a candid and honest view of someone at her most vulnerable. Britt Robertson’s performance is mesmerizing as she effortlessly switches between a young woman who enjoys sex and a naive teenager pretending at an innocence she never truly had.
The men in Katie’s life are an eclectic blend of dysfunction with their own lacking morals and personal issues. Whether a man in her life is a lover, a friend, an employer, or a relative, each one has a different effect on Katie’s perspective of her problems. Her boyfriend Rory (Max Carver) is age-appropriate but dull and at times aggressive. Dan (Justin Long) is the more mature man Katie’s cheating with but he’s not as invested as Katie is in the affair.
Christian Slater and Martin Sheen play employers of Katie at two separate jobs. Slater’s Paul and his wife Margaret (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) become an idealized vision of a proper relationship when Katie nannies for them. Meanwhile Sheen’s Glenn is a nurturing presence in her life. Both men provide life advice in their own ways and become essential pieces in the growth Katie undergoes throughout the movie.
There are more male figures that influence her perception of the world as she grows. Her father (Robert Patrick) is an abrasive drunk who she’s still dependent on. Her friend Joel (Max Hoffman) is a kindred spirit in mental distress and provides Katie with catharsis she’s not equipped to process. Finally, her mother’s boyfriend (Andy Buckley) is perhaps the most balanced male figure in her life but unfortunately her immaturity prevents her from seeing him as such.
Ask Me Anything leads to a shocking and deeply profound ending that struck me on a visceral level. I was left feeling helpless and dumbfounded once the movie reached its wholly unexpected ending. I sat through the credits in a daze and then went to bed shaken, tearing up intermittently as the hours passed. I can’t do the ending proper justice in this review without spoiling it. But it takes a turn that plays off of the connection between the audience and the characters and delivers a message you don’t see coming.
I could easily double this review’s word count deconstructing the final moments of Ask Me Anything. I won’t because it would spoil the experience for so many viewers. What I will say is that Allison Burnett achieved something spectacular in telling the realistic story of a bubbly teenage girl struggling with inner conflict and a facade of innocence.
The profoundly powerful ending works because it draws upon the breadth of the movie’s nuanced characterization. The work put in to craft believable characters in a story told from the perspective of a teenager girl is all setup for a payoff that will leave the viewer with complex emotions to process and many questions to ponder.