BFI London Film Festival Reviews

How to Talk to Girls at Parties – Review

Everyone seems to be tackling Neil Gaiman at the moment. From American Gods to God Omens, the fantastical writer is having each work thrown into Hollywood. Indie flick How to Talk to Girls at Parties tackles a much smaller, 18-page tale, giving it a hyper-active big screen adaptation.

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Directed by John Cameron Mitchell, the film revolves around Enn, a shy young punk artists who embarks on the streets of Croydon, London to see rock bands on the underground with his friends. Coming across an alluring and strange house party, the group comes across weird latex wearing people. They say there are tourists, and equipped with Union Jack ponchos, that may be correct – but perhaps they’ve travelled from a place beyond America.

Mitchell isn’t averse to capturing a wild punk rock nature in his films, most notably Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Pins, denim, ripped jeans, and a lot of hair gel, How to Talk to Girls at Parties is a checklist of what is aesthetically punk to our juvenile protagonist. Juxtaposing the bleak and rotten nature of punk with the colourful and vibrant world of the aliens, this film is an array of colliding cultures trying desperately to find meaning in the vast universe. Fun to watch, 1977 London is captured brilliantly here.

Alex Sharp is a compelling lead as the awkward but passionate Enn. Even beside Elle Fanning, whose mysterious curious nature and electrifying beauty transfer well, you cannot take your eyes off him. Full of wonderment, sadness, love, and a personality that fumbles with polite uneasiness, Sharp (who has previously excelled in To The Bone,) is and appealing and likeable star. Filling the other characters are Nicole Kidman (reuniting with Mitchell after Rabbit Hole and sporting a rather strained cockney accent,) Matt Lucas, and Ruth Wilson.

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There is no denying that How to Talk to Girls at Parties is an unpolished and uneven product. Much like punk itself, it is muddled in its own themes (of which there are too many.) Yet its raw energy is unparalleled. This little oddity of a film is remarkably ferocious and unexpectedly visceral. At the core are two people willing and preparing to break free from their respective families or social groups. Detrimental in places, there are different layers of messages, and when they work, are happily devoured. From how species ingest their planets through greed to catering for our children, giving them the best life before they are (quite literally) gobbled up by the world. The biggest takeaway in this vibrant and bizarrely wonderful film is experience: resistance is living, sex and love is evolution, and you should live to your own identity.

There is a great (and different) soundtrack of punk, with an added original song to get your pulsses started. As though Bjork and the Sex Pistols came together in an LSD laden night of passion birthing a surreal film about human consumption, rebellion, and young love, How to Talk to Girls at Parties may not suit everyone’s tastes.

But when has punk ever done that?


How to Talk to Girls at Parties is out Friday! 

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