Is this movie a psy-op? The #MeToo revenge thriller Asking for It seems custom-built to inspire gratitude for Promising Young Woman—or virtually any other movie that might otherwise miss its sociopolitical-thriller mark. Promising Young Woman may have been overly tidy and arch, but it was made with an exacting sense of purpose. Asking for It is made with sloppy overconfidence, a stunning bluff of both style and substance.
Joey (Kiersey Clemons), a vaguely college-aged woman living with her grandparents and working as a waitress in her home town, reconnects with her old friend Mike (Casey Cott), and after a pleasant, flirtatious sort-of date at a party, he rapes her. Wandering through the aftermath in a traumatized daze, Joey is befriended by Regina (Alexandra Shipp), who introduces her to a posse of angry young women who rebel against the myriad abuses of the patriarchy. Eventually, they all go on the road together, targeting a gathering organized by men’s rights activist Mark Vanderhill (Ezra Miller).
The story sounds simple and starts tripping over itself almost immediately. Following a ragged opening montage of Vanderhill’s unhinged rants that establishes Asking for It’s overkill-and-keep-killing techniques, the timeline starts to distend in odd directions: 10 minutes into the movie, before Clemons has any chance to get her footing, Joey is already sleepwalking through her upended life because of her sexual assault; half an hour after that, the movie is somehow still clearing its throat. Rather than focus on the rueful camaraderie between Joey, Regina and the edgier Beatrice (Vanessa Hudgens), writer/director Eamon O’Rourke keeps adding new characters who don’t do or even say much of anything. It might not be entirely fair to suggest that a white male filmmaker is haphazardly checking boxes as he brings a middle-aged den mother (Radha Mitchell), a trans woman (Lenya Bloom) and a solemn Native woman (Casey Camp-Horinek) into the fold, but when the film can barely account for their whereabouts, much less assign them personality traits, the mind wanders. Does the screenplay see any of these women as people? Or does O’Rourke just enjoy flashing character names on-screen like a Tarantino knock-off, then patting himself on the back for his inclusiveness?
There is at least equality to the vast gusts of nothing distributed among all members of the oversized cast. Even the merest of stage directing doesn’t appear to reach the actors, who continually look stranded, as if waiting for their marching orders. This is true even of Clemons, Shipp and Hudgens, who—despite their ample experience—revert to feeling like newcomers vamping their way through an endless rough patch. O’Rourke seems to have zero idea of how to physically move anyone through this story or even individual scenes; actions as simple as people arriving at a house, having a conversation or running from the bad guys are blocked with an astonishing lack of basic intuition. (It’s the kind of blocking that makes it look like the characters can’t see each other unless they are talking.) The movie instead resorts to the clumsiest of montages: Redundant, meaningless and heavy on still photos, as if padding out an aimless short to feature length. During one sequence, O’Rourke fades to an out-of-focus shot of a trash-can fire no less than three times, bravely daring the audience to concoct unflattering metaphors.
While the movie curates its slideshow-level stylistic flourishes, it loses its most basic spectacle: That of charismatic women striking back at toxic, abusive men. Though Miller’s frothing overacting begs for center-of-attention villain status, O’Rourke still rolls together incel MRAs, alt-right misogynists, racist cops and human traffickers (?!), obviously intending to create a foreboding landscape of male privilege but actually just conflating a lot of problems as The Same, Actually. These figures have common ground, to be sure, but Asking for It blends them all together in a gray slurry of evil. It’s really a failure of nerve: The movie doesn’t trust that a gun-toting rape apologist will register as enough of a bad guy, so why not throw in an evil sheriff on the level of a cheap slasher movie? And, for good measure, be sure to include a sage finger-wagging about how Beatrice’s plan to hastily rape the MRA leader as his followers bear down on the group (?!) is Also Bad, Actually.
As a road movie, Asking for It is inert. (This is the raucous odyssey of some girls who drive a few hours out of town and then drive back.) As a revenge movie, it’s inept. (The ladies’ plan is so ill-explained that it’s hard to figure whether it’s a galvanizing act of biological warfare or a zany prank.) These failures pale, however, to the movie’s late-breaking nadir. In his final montage, an appalling series of end-credits testimonials to the power of these fictional characters, O’Rourke isn’t just inserting a bunch of bullshit into #MeToo; he’s essentially crediting his movie for taking it to the next level. Give the movie a little credit: Being this terrible is the best provocation it can muster.
Director: Eamon O’Rourke
Writer: Eamon O’Rourke
Starring: Kiersey Clemons, Alexandra Shipp, Vanessa Hudgens, Radha Mitchell, Luke Hemsworth, Ezra Miller
Release Date: March 4, 2022
Jesse Hassenger writes about movies and other pop-culture stuff for a bunch of outlets including The A.V. Club, Polygon, The Week, NME, and SportsAlcohol.com, where he also has a podcast. Following @rockmarooned on Twitter is a great way to find out about what he’s watching, listening to, or eating.