I want to save you time. If two of the following three terms appeal to you, then you need to keep reading this review: science fiction, weird, and Neil Gaiman. I could tease you further with punk, shape-shifters, and anal probes. From James Cameron Mitchell comes How to Talk to Girls at Parties, based on Gaiman’s short story of the same time.
It’s 1977 during the anarchist punk rock scene in London. Enn (Alex Sharp) and his best mates Vic (Abraham Lewis) and Jonesy (Eddie-Joe Robinson) are your typical angry Brits with a harsh message for authority. As the three escape their oppressive parents in a punk music montage, the crew heads to an underground nightclub for the evening’s anti-authoritarian revelry run by Queen Boadicea (Nicole Kidman) whose stamp of approval can send a band to the next level.
“This is where aliens, teen love, shape-shifting, anal probes and punk music all converge…”
As things do, the night ends in a bar-wide brawl sending Enn and friends searching for the post-fight after party. Lost, the three stumble across an isolated home playing late 70’s electronic music. Greeted by the party’s host Ari Up (Hebe Beardsall), Vic uses his bullshit skills to gain entrance to a party, which can best be described as a mash-up of colorful latex bondage and Cirque du Soliel. The oddness of the guests is quickly dismissed as just a bunch of visiting Americans.
The three split up to explore the house. The party guests divide by similarly themed outfits into “colonies.” What happens to Vic and Jonesy is best-kept secret, but the real story follows Enn eavesdropping on one colony where he spots Zan (Elle Fanning).
When Zan breaks off from her colony, Enn follows her, and the two find a secluded location to talk. Zan is so fascinated by Enn and his punk lifestyle that she leaves with Enn to experience the “punk” for herself.
“But everything changed. The film got weird…really weird…”
This is where aliens, teen love, shape-shifting, anal probes and punk music all converge. From the opening moments of How to Talk to Girls at Parties, I kept thinking to myself, “what the hell have I gotten myself into?” From the start, things were hard to follow. I have difficulty sometimes understanding the heavy London accent. Was I going to regret wasting the next 90 minutes of my life?
But everything changed. The film got weird…really weird. Act I of the film is based on Gaiman’s short story, but then screenwriters Philippa Goslett and John Cameron Mitchell expanded the short into a love story of boy meets alien.
The sweetness of the curious alien Zan is contrasted by her fellow aliens featuring great and quirky performances from Tom Brooke as Zan’s colony leader PT Waldo, Ruth Wilson as the ever-evolving and sexually curious PT Stella and Matt Lucas in his funniest un-funny role of his career.
Of the humans, Joanna Scanlan gets some of the best laughs as Enn’s mother, who is the embarrassing cool mother of punker. Also, add Nicole Kidman to the list of the film’s great performances. She is surprisingly convincing as the queen of punk music almost to the point that you may not recognize her.
“I suggest grabbing your odd sci-fi friends and see this film in a theater…”
The film’s success rests on Elle Fanning and Alex Sharp’s performance in this tragic love story. It would be cliché to say they have great chemistry, but they do. Elle’s portrayal of the alien Zan is calculated, and consistent.
How to Talk to Girls at Parties is not for everyone, especially those to take their films way too seriously. It is strange, and it is really weird. I can see a lot of people shutting down this film from the get-go, and you won’t convince them otherwise. So don’t try. Think of yourself for once. The story is strung together by brilliantly funny moments that make your effort worthwhile. Now, I’m probably overselling it.
If you’re still on the fence about this films, I suggest grabbing your odd sci-fi friends (you know who they are) and see this film in a theater. The small screen will not do this film justice.
How to Talk to Girls at Parties (2018) Written by Philippa Goslett and John Cameron Mitchell. Directed by John Cameron Mitchell. Starring Elle Fanning, Alex Sharp, Tom Brooke, Ruth Wilson, Matt Lucas and Nicole Kidman. How to Talk to Girls at Parties made its US premiere at the San Francisco International Film Festival.
8 out of 10 stars