- How to Talk to Girls at Parties (2017)
Wandering around Croydon and suffering through a mild embarrassment during a punk gig, three teens crash a party in one of the houses in the neighbourhood. Walking into a psychedelic, mind-bending reality leaves them shocked, stirred and surprised – and they meet a couple of people hungry for experiencing life in London as much as they crave trying new things.
Among them, a rebellious girl takes her life into her own hands. Zan is a rulebreaker; having arrived on Earth, she’s convinced that her tribe behaves merely like tourists and not like travellers. And she decides to spend her 48 hours of breaking the rules with Enn, an artsy teenager who’s more than keen to show her the punk.
This charming coming-of-age tale from John Cameron Mitchell explores many themes so strongly attached to the genre. Say, self-discovery and adventure: as the boys explore their sexuality, fall in love for the first time and rebel against the status quo, the aliens learn to embrace new experiences. But let’s be straightforward: it’s not Under the Skin if you’re hoping for sci-fi but it doesn’t even aspire to be. Besides the aliens, there are few things that would tick the boxes on the textbook description of the genre; if you expect pure science fiction, you’re setting yourself up for a disappointment.
The film’s power lies in its humour, however: from the jokes deriving its power from the self-discovery absolutely every character in this film faces to charming situational quips with a whole lot of power, it takes teenage experiences that many can relate to and makes them a joyful ride of staggering nostalgia. And it feasts on absurdity: the characters are caricatural, and although they aren’t drawn in the most complex of manners and there’s little to dwell on in terms of their development, they draw us in with their weirdness and awkwardness.
We know Alex Sharp from an appearance in Netflix series To The Bone – this movie is his first feature film. He easily finds his way to portray the creative, misunderstood teenager who desperately wants to get out of his grim neighbourhood. Nicole Kidman, although she’s given a small role as Queen Boadicea, totally owns her character, delivering a charismatic caricature of an artist; she’s a punk rock star who stands for what she believes in and is not afraid to wreck a house when she goes in. A punk queen desperate to become recognisable at the scene, she’s flippant and difficult to please; however, she becomes almost a motherly figure to Zen. Here, Elle Fanning fills in the shoes of her character instinctively: she’s here to discover new things and have fun, but also to step onto her own path to adulthood that gives her the ability to change how things stand. And once again, she brings us a teenage heroine that became her speciality (recently, in The Neon Demon and The Beguiled, for instance).
How to Talk to Girls at Parties works well as a time machine, too, largely thanks to its attention to detail and dedication to music. When we think of the punk movement, we inevitably think of London (hello The Clash!); it’s refreshing to take a closer look at the scene through the lens of the South London borough. The club in which Queen Boadicea resides, the quirks of the subculture, the soundtrack and subtle name-dropping (hello Vivienne Westwood!) helps to create a realistic atmosphere alongside the sense of place and spot-on costume design. Speaking of which, there’s a whole lot of colourful, weird and wonderful old-fashioned alien costumes that I’d happily sport for Halloween this year. The psychedelic sequences that take over at some point are also an eye candy that bring liquid light shows to mind.
Let’s get it straight: it might be a tough one to love if you’re not that into absurd. However, it’s a lovely little fun flick that’s totally worth your time if you can embrace its weirdness. If you like its concept, don’t desperately try to decode its madness and give in to the absurd sprouting from every single minute of this film, and there’s a chance it will charm you too.
How to Talk to Girls at Parties was screened as a part of the 61st London Film Festival.