Another Girl is a bleak drama about how broken people are easy targets for other broken people. Ellie (Sammi Hanratty) is a clinically depressed young woman with a history of abusive relationships who finds strength in her faceless relationships with Katie, a blogger who becomes a digital shoulder on which to lean. The story is narrated by the ongoing conversation between the two of them. (The dual narration is used to great effect across the story, although their voices are very similar, which at times makes for confusion over which girl is talking when Ellie isn’t narrating directly at the camera.) It feels modern, in an uncommon way, to tell a story with a constant, ongoing conversation between the main character and someone completely off-screen and unrelated to the drama of the moment. Is that not how many of us live our lives?
Ellie’s life is messy: She has a hot boss, Dave (Peter Gadiot), with whom she wants to start an affair despite knowing his wife and small daughter. She has an overbearing mother who is repressive and controlling. Her history with men is terrible even before deciding she wants to seduce Dave. Because of her difficult life circumstances, Ellie has a history of self-harm and a suicide attempt. Talking to Katie becomes one of her only outlets — someone who won’t question her as she tries to figure out what she wants as an adult and as a woman.
Director Allison Burnett imbues Ellie’s story with just about every cliché he can find. The resolution to the story — which he adapted from his novella, which was, in turn, a semi-sequel to his own 2009 novel Undiscovered Gyrl / 2014 film Ask Me Anything — is shockingly dark, but it’s in keeping with the heightened and sort of exploitative nature of the film itself. I use the terms “cliché” and “exploitative,” but not in the sense that Another Girl is bad or unwatchable. Far from it. The movie is immensely enjoyable, filled with twists, turns and extremes that keep the story and characters interesting. There are a lot of “holy shit” moments or lines of dialogue. None of it feels natural, but it’s madly entertaining from start to finish.
To clarify the sequel thing: In Ask Me Anything, Katie Kampenfelt is a young woman who blogs about her sexual exploits. She goes missing at the end of the film. In Another Girl, the story of Ask Me Anything has become a novel and “Katie” is a blog set up to promote it. Elle loves the book, and in her loneliness, she starts messaging the blog on a lark. She fills the “ask me anything” inbox with stories about her life, filled with sexually explicit details and her frustrations with the world, feeding the faceless stranger updates about her life.
One night, Katie responds, assuring Ellie she’s real, that she’s listening, that Ellie is not alone. What has been a casual internet acquaintance with “Katie” morphs into something more. And when it comes time to meet in person …
There is no need to have seen Ask Me Anything to enjoy Another Girl. That said, Burnett’s choice to end two stories about promiscuous young women with dark backstories the way that he does is interesting. Given the way Another Girl relies primarily on internet tech about 10 years out of date, that side of the story feels like “internet panic” story from a different era. Which is not to say it is sounding the alarm about a false threat: anonymous internet relationship can absolutely be dangerou.
I had hoped, as someone who has led a life with many friendships primarily forged through the internet, that the story had something deeper to say about the potentially positive impact of those on someone suffering from anxiety and loneliness. I have seen many films warning about the dangers of the internet, but few diving into the (scant?) benefits. Another Girl does not go that route. Which doesn’t mean the route it does take is meritless, and it’s definitely heartfelt and concerned. It lands with the same level of dread and hopelessness for which Burnett was aiming.
A minor technical note: Be prepared to be frustrated by the opening credits, which feature women and quotes onscreen in a way that has their images and the fonts clash. They are outright unreadable. It’s possible that text features pertinent thematic information. The effect is completely lost in its current form.
Burnett reportedly based the story on the experiences of readers who wrote in about their response to Ask Me Anything, and unfortunately the idea of a young woman potentially being catfished isn’t that far-fetched anyway. In the end, Burnett’s film underlies a point made by Ellie early in the film: “Men do all kinds of sick shit for no reason.” It’s a statement that is hard to argue with, really.