The-Big-Ask

When friends are going through a hard time, it is natural to want to support them as much as possible. But what to do when that friend’s request crosses the line?

Andrew (David Krumholtz) and girlfriend Hannah (Melanie Lynskey of Two and a Half Men and The Perks of Being a Wallflower) take a trip to a California desert house with two other couples. It’s Andrew’s birthday, but the tone of the trip isn’t exactly celebratory. Andrew’s mom has just died after a grueling battle with cancer. Expecting nature hikes and roasting marshmallows, the friends hope to have a low-key time comforting their beloved buddy.

After the first night’s cozy dinner however, the group gathers around the fireplace and Andrew makes an announcement – or rather, a bombshell bid. Being in a fragile emotional state, he wants to feel an expression of love in a giant way.  His special request is to sleep with all the girls in the room – at the same time.

Of course at first they think he’s joking, but then things get uncomfortable when they realize he is serious. The bigger question becomes, what are they going to say or do next? Andrew’s “big ask” brings tension into the group in different ways. Obviously this causes problems with his girlfriend Hannah, who is unsure what to think or what the next move is in their relationship. Then there are the male friends who cannot believe his audacity, and the female friends who are confused and a little grossed out. All the while, they realize their friend is in pain and want to help him.

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Don’t let the premise fool you – The Big Ask isn’t your average sex comedy. Instead of dissolving into raunchy American Pie-like antics, it explores the awkwardness and aftermath of this bold proposition in a more truthful way.

The film may be more accurately described as a dramedy. Although there are pockets of humor and dark comedy, do not expect a broad, lighthearted romp. The tone is more wistful and sometimes downright raw. The film takes Andrew’s grieving seriously, as well as how this bizarre invitation affects the three couples’ relationship issues. It’s a little like The Big Chill Jr. Edition (without the baby boomer pop tunes).

Fittingly, the film’s original title was Teddy Bears, which are cacti that appear soft like fur but nonetheless leave a sharp prick. In the same way, what is interesting about the film is that it starts with a somewhat absurd movie plot, but then steers it into a realistic direction that has a strong emotional core. It is more likely your heart will be aching rather than your sides from laughter.

This is a risk, as those expecting naked girls and tons of sex talk may be disappointed, and those who like thoughtful relationship movies may pass over it based on the movie description. If you appreciate the latter wrapped up with offbeat indie flair, this movie may be up your alley.

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The strength of the film is in its cast, as an authentic friendship is felt among the attractive six-member cast. David Krumholtz is perhaps best known as the star in the crime procedural Numb3ers, but with over 20 years of television and film roles that stretch from the Harold & Kumar franchise to The Newsroom he has one of those faces that are recognized from a variety of projects. A terrific character actor, he usually stands out in ensembles, and has a knack for adding something special to small but key roles.

As the lead here, he has the opportunity to show his dramatic range in a couple heart-wrenching scenes. It is not easy for an actor to pull off a character that asks such a controversial question, yet remains vulnerable and sympathetic; but Krumholtz succeeds.

Lynskey skillfully plays the weary girlfriend dealing with very conflicting emotions. A striking scene with her looking in a mirror is heartbreakingly realistic. Even though the character of Emily is the most open to Andrew’s idea, Gillian Jacobs (Community) plays her with a sweet innocence. Her boyfriend Owen is played by the charming Jason Ritter (Parenthood), although he is more aggressive than usual in this role. The third couple, Dave and Zoe, is played by an earnest Zachary Knighton (Happy Endings) and the cute Ahna O’Reilly (The Help).

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The stunning desert setting suits the film well, as its stillness is reflective of Andrew’s emptiness. The movie’s situation is surreal, while the gorgeous desert landscape and ethereal soundtrack also have a dreamy quality to it. The group is in this otherworldly place, and they have nowhere to hide from their respective issues.

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The one regret is that The Big Ask unfortunately leaves some questions unanswered. Although the film places Andrew’s emotional ride at the forefront, it would have been beneficial to know more about the characters’ backstories and motivations. Why is Hannah so loyal to Andrew? Why is Zoe so hesitant to be married? What is not working between Emily and Owen? With such an open plot, it felt like these things could have been explored more than the scant scenes and dialogue that deal with them.

Still, this is an indie gem that is worth checking out. For husband and wife directing team Thomas Beatty and Rebecca Fishman, it is a solid debut that leaves an emotional impact.