Earlier today, I took a look at The People Next Door, a film about a family torn apart by the discovery that their teenage daughter is taking drugs. For all of that film’s melodrama and over-the-top moments, it still worked. It may have felt like it was taking place on a plane of heightened reality but it still felt real nonetheless. Among the many films in the drugs-in-the-suburbs genre, that general feeling of reality made The People Next Door unique. Far more typical of the genre is the 1973 made-for-TV movie, Go Ask Alice.
Go Ask Alice is based on a YA book that’s been in print for 43 years now. (I can still remember spending an afternoon reading it in a Barnes and Noble when I was 14 years old.) The book claims to be the diary of a teenage girl who ended up getting addicted to drugs and sex. She runs away from home for a bit and, even when she does manage to stop using drugs, her friends still insist on secretly slipping her acid. She goes crazy and ends up spending some time in a mental asylum. Eventually, she’s released and moves to a new town with her family. She ends the diary saying that she’s looking forward to the future and then, in the afterward, we’re told that she died three weeks later of an overdose and this diary has been published so that we can all learn from her story.
Now, oddly enough, when Go Ask Alice was originally published, it was apparently sold as being an authentic diary of an anonymous teenage girl who had been a patient of the book’s “editor”, Dr. Beatrice Sparks. However, if you actually read the book, it’s pretty obvious that, while Dr. Sparks may have indeed used some of her patients’ real-life experiences, Go Ask Alice is in no way authentic. Instead, it’s a classic example of the type of cautionary tale in which a character makes one mistake (in this case, the girl drinks a soda that’s been spiked with LSD) and, immediately afterwards, everything bad thing that possibly could happen does happen. The purpose of the book is to shock and titillate, to make us wonder how this girl can go from being the sweet optimist who bought a diary because she feels that she finally has something to say to being so jaded that she casually says stuff like, “Another day, another blowjob.” And, of course, the answer is that she didn’t because the whole thing is totally made up.
But that still didn’t stop anyone from making a movie out of the book and informing us, at the start of the movie, that the story we are about to watch is true and only the names and certain details have been changed to protect everyone’s privacy. Our diarist (who is now definitely named Alice) is played by a young actress named Jamie Smith-Jackson, who is sympathetic and pretty. Alice’s mother (Ruth Roman) is too repressed and uptight to provide any guidance to her rapidly maturing daughter. Meanwhile, Alice’s father is played by William Shatner, so we know he’s not going to be able to do any good either.
Much as in the original book, Alice goes to one party, drinks on LSD-spiked soda, and her life is never the same. Soon, she’s spending all of her time doing drugs and, as she informs us, having a “monthly pregnancy scare.” She’s no longer hanging out with her smart, nerdy friends. Instead, she spends all of her time with a bunch of petty criminals who recruit Alice to help deliver drugs to the students at the junior high. (“I push at the elementary school!” one junior high kid snarls). Eventually, Alice runs away from home and lives on the streets. Fortunately, she runs into a liberal Catholic priest (played by Andy Griffith and yes, you read that right) and starts trying to get her life straight…
Go Ask Alice is no The People Next Door but it’s no Reefer Madness either. What it gets wrong about teenage drug use, it gets right about just how confusing and alienating it can be to be 15 years old. At the same time, I’d be lying if I said that this film did not have some camp appeal. How can it not when it features not only Andy Griffith talking tough but also William Shatner with a bushy mustache?
And guess what?
You can watch it below!