There are a few good things about the movie Ashley. The cinematography and sound design are effective and I appreciate the use of foreground to create depth and symbolize distance. The soundtrack was evocative, especially the juxtaposition of melodic classical music during discordant and disturbing scenes.
The model-turned-actress in the title role, Nicole Fox (winner of Cycle 13 of America’s Next Top Model), was surprisingly talented. Yet overall, the film, written by Domenic Migliore and directed by Dean Matthew Ronalds, was a disappointment. Technically speaking, the film may have its merits, but the storyline is not only unrealistic and problematic, but some, like myself, may even find it offensive as it perpetuates some of the worst stereotypes about queer women and degrades the main character, a blossoming young lesbian, into a mere sex-object.
As you can tell by the title, the film centers on a 17-year-old girl named Ashley who, after the death of her father, has become withdrawn and numb. She barely eats, she hardly ever speaks, and despite the emotional and physical trauma that is still perpetrated on her almost daily by school bullies, her mother’s new boyfriend and others, she doesn’t seem to be able to cry, or experience any real emotion—except when she is cutting herself.
Ashley isn’t confused about her sexuality; she knows she’s into girls. And though she doesn’t say a word, somehow-either because she is caught looking at another girl a little too long, or because she uses a Zippo lighter and carries a “badass” Swiss Army knife—a couple of other girls figure it out as well and make advances toward her. Awkward make-out sessions become even more uncomfortable as Ashley’s eagerness becomes violent. Ashley becomes more and more isolated until she connects online with a much older woman who gets her to talk.
Though I admit that the movie was well made, the production value can’t come close to compensating for all the things that are horribly, horribly wrong with the film. Let’s push aside the fact that the pacing is painfully slow. The movie really could have started at the thirty-minute mark and the viewer wouldn’t miss much. Let’s forgive the fact that the “big reveal” about Ashley’s past isn’t much of a reveal at all, and is in fact a dangerous cliché. Instead, let’s concentrate on the fact that the film seems to suggest that a) young girls with sexually dysfunctional pasts grow up to be lesbians, b) women with unfulfilled same-sex desires are driven mad or mute until they are able to consummate them—Or worse, once they are able to consummate their desires, everything else in their world is all right, no matter how devastating their circumstances may be—and c) adult lesbians prey on young girls.
These tropes and stereotypes are not new. They’ve graced our screens since the silent film era. As a matter of fact, I may not have taken particular notice of them if they hadn’t been coupled by the over-sexualization of the title character. Every person in Ashley’s life, with the exception of her therapist, treats her like a sex object. There is even a creepy hair-brushing scene between Ashley and her mother that is oddly sexual. Ultimately, Ashley is only healed when she finally has a positive sexual experience, albeit with a woman almost twice her age, as if a good romp in the sack was really all she needed to be made whole again.
I know that as women-loving women we are hungry for representations of our community on screen. Yet even the joy of seeing women kissing other women (and that’s pretty much all we see), doesn’t seem worth the rental price of this movie. Do yourself a favor: re-watch The L Word or But I’m a Cheerleader instead of screening Ashley. You’re not that desperate.