“We’re behaving more like tourists than travellers” – How To Talk To Girls At Parties (DVD Review)

Rating:

How To Talk To Girls At Parties brings together the creative genius of Neil Gaiman and the directorial skill of John Cameron Mitchell in a story set in 1977 of a shy teenage punk rocker who falls in love with a girl from another world, leading to punks versus aliens, testing the bonds of friendship, family and true love.

Ostensibly a coming of age romantic comedy, How To Talk To Girls At Parties could very well be overlooked by those who may find it most interesting. John Cameron Mitchell and Phillipa Goslett give us a heartwarming story of interplanetary love. There are times that you could imagine this being performed as a stage play, with a touch of Shakespeare to some of the exchanges, especially between the three friends, Enn, Vic and John. That’s not to say it’s a work of high literature; it’s a romcom with an occasionally silly heart.

Based on a Neil Gaiman short story, How To Talk to Girls At Parties is a great story, exploring more than the surface subject matter of love, punk and life. There’s an exploration of cults, sexual awakening and authoritarian control, all without it ever getting too deep and meaningful.

Mitchell has a superb sense of the surreal, imbuing the film with a bold vision of the real and the fantastical. There’s plenty to love about the characters in the film as the writers play with the backdrop of punk.

Nicole Kidman is incredible as Queen Boadicea (looking like David Bowie from Labyrinth), bringing a whole new level of beauty to her onscreen talent as the old-school punk who has the future of the young in her hands. Ruth Wilson as Stella, one of the alien leaders, is captivating to watch and Matt Lucas manages to narrowly avoid being a parody of Matt Lucas. It’s when Alex Sharp’s Enn and Dakota Fanning’s Zan first meet that the film performances becomes magnetic.

Sharp and Fanning make a wonderful pairing, both being naive to the world in very different ways and both just wanting to fit in. How To Talk To Girls At Parties gives us coming of age incredibly well done, replete with awkward exchanges and blossoming love, embarrassing (for Enn) and controlling (for Zan) friends and family. You can feel that teenage angst from Sharp’s performance and Fanning embodies the rebellious hopes and dreams of both. There’s a touch of Craig Roberts performance in Submarine from Sharp, and that’s no bad thing.

Frank G DeMarco’s camerawork, teamed with Mitchell’s vision, is stunning. Wonderful use of lighting and unusual camera angles give rise to an unsettling but never creepy experience; it’s not a nightmare but like a really strange dream. It may not be the most coherent of films at times, with an occasional swing in tone, but dreams aren’t meant to be easily understood and followed. This doesn’t make it any less enjoyable, even when it seems to lose its way in the final act.

Sandy Powell’s costume design coupled with Caroline Barclay’s art direction is deserving of praise. The aliens are garbed in what appears to be textured plastic outfits that suit the “cult” aspect of the film wonderfully whilst still looking of its time. The punk outfits are timeless designs, even at the tamest.

How To Talk To Girls At Parties is at times cruel, just like life itself, and has an underlying thread of humour, silly, sarcastic and subtle that flirts with its core story of love and self-discovery. As Enn brings Zan into his world, away from the isolated alien commune that she inhabits, she experiences a world unlike any other and it has repercussions on her short life. Enn’s understanding of punk is well rendered, it’s seen from the perspective of a teenager hopeful about life and his sub-culture, eschewing some of the more hedonistic behaviours that other films may have focused upon. It doesn’t try to be a social commentary on a subculture, just a story about growing up.

An effective, if not affecting, film on belonging and acceptance, How To Talk To Girls At Parties is as much a science fiction film as it is a romantic comedy and love story but, despite all of its good points, it struggles to find a comfortable balance. Enjoy it for what it is and it’s a good film but it seems to have been created to be so much more.

The DVD features deleted scenes, many of which could have been reincorporated into the film without disrupting the narrative, and a short series of cast and crew interviews that formed part of the media electronic press kit and offer a very positive exploration of the film, its characters and its themes.

Dir: John Cameron Mitchell

Scr: Phillippa Goslett, John Cameron Mitchell

Cast: Alex Sharp, Elle Fanning, Matt Lucas, Ruth Wilson, Nicole Kidman

Prd: John Cameron Mitchell, Iain Canning, Howard Gertler, Emile Sherman

DOP: Frank G DeMarco

Country: United Kingdom

Year: 2017

Runtime: 98 mins

How To Talk To Girls At Parties out now on DVD, BluRay and Digital Download