Menage a quoi?, by Mat Bradley-Tschirgi
Renting a vacation house for a weekend with some adult friends can be fun. There’s bound to be rambling conversations and empty bottles. At some point, someone is going to let loose with an inappropriate question. In The Big Ask, the directorial debut of Thomas Beatty and Rebecca Fishman, the question is “Can I sleep with all the female friends that are here? My mother died from cancer, and it’ll help with my grieving process.” The humor at times is so dark it brings to mind the directorial oeuvre of Bobcat Goldthwait. A valiant attempt at humor at its most squeamish, The Big Ask is undermined by its coquettish approach to the material.
David Krumholtz (The Santa Clause 2) stars as the forlorn Andrew. The getaway with friends is meant to be casual, but Andrew screws the pooch by making it sexual. The reaction of the girls in the group is interesting. Gillian Jacobs (The Incredible Burt Wonderstone) plays Emily, who is less than enthusiastic about the idea. Ahna O’Reilly (CBGB) plays Zoe, who is into the idea out of sympathy if nothing else. Owen and Dave, the other guys in the group (played by Jason Ritter and Zachary Knighton, respectively) are appalled at the idea. After all, these aren’t just any women- these are their girlfriends Andrew is talking about. By the end of the weekend, romance blossoms with positive and negative consequence.
The concept of The Big Ask is strong. The queasiness of the scenario is muted by the suggestion that Andrew sleep with all the female friends. Had Andrew asked to sleep with all his friends all at once, regardless of their sex, the scenario at hand would have been much more daring. Thomas Beatty’s screenplay smartly introduces a limited number of characters in a remote setting to goose up the awkwardness bubbling to the surface between the characters. Krumholtz delivers a subtle performance as Andrew. He comes off as a flawed creep. He’s hard to connect with (despite his speechifying, his sexual fantasy comes off as more perverse than not) in a way the rest of the cast isn’t. The rough edges of his character is what gives the film its subtle nuances.
Any attempts at sex and violence are approached at a daytime soap opera level, which makes one wonder why Beatty and Fishman wanted to make a black comedy in the first place. Some scenes are disturbing and the extra level of juice from pushing the limit visually or verbally could have made them have even more of an impact. An emotional tryst comes across as a few adults smacking their heads against the kitchen counter in tight close-ups.
Ritter, in particular, gives a relaxed comedic performance that the film could have used more of. The talented Jacobs of Community fame is given next to nothing to do here, a true waste of her talents. The climax makes you want to care for the characters, but things are played a bit too broad to have the requisite emotional punch.
Some scenes are effective. Andrew tries to hide a local dog from its owner and builds a fun, secretive relationship with it. There’s a half-baked subplot about a local village drunk with a monologue so powerful that it feels like it came from a serious drama instead of a pseudo-naughty comedy. A motel encounter with a pair of prostitutes delivers serious laughs in a way the rest of the film can barely dream.
A few notches above middling, The Big Ask is worth a watch if you’re looking for something a little different. Bound to spark conversation, The Big Ask takes the hard road of playing a raw comedic premise in shades of gray.