How to Talk to Girls at Parties
dir John Cameron Mitchell
scr Philippa Goslett, John Cameron Mitchell
prd Iain Canning, Howard Gertler, John Cameron Mitchell, Emile Sherman
with Elle Fanning, Alex Sharp, Nicole Kidman, Ruth Wilson, Matt Lucas, Joanna Scanlan, AJ Lewis, Ethan Lawrence, Tom Brooke, Edward Petherbridge, Alice Sanders, Martin Tomlinson
release UK 11.May.18, US 25.May.18
17/UK 1h42
How to Talk to Girls at Parties
Inter-species romance: Sharp and Fanning

kidman wilson lucas
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
How to Talk to Girls at Parties Based on a Neil Gaiman story, this bonkers movie pits punks against aliens in late-1970s Croydon. Packed with terrific characters, the film's spiky energy soars in several excellent sequences. But filmmaker John Cameron Mitchell lets the plot spiral out of control in the middle with bizarre scenes that add little to the central story. Even so, there are constant moments that are exhilarating, sweet, riotously funny and darkly moving.

As the UK celebrates the Queen's Jubilee in 1977, a community of aliens prepares to end their time on Earth. But Zan (Fanning) wants to have 48 hours living with humans, specifically Enn (Sharp), a punk teen who has a spark of chemistry with her. Enn's chucklehead friends Vic and John (Lewis and Lawrence) are freaked out by Zan's bizarre extended family, who must be from California. And punk matriarch Boadicea (Kidman) is smitten by Zan. But Zan is in trouble with the alien officials over the amount of contact she is having with humans.

Meanwhile, a clash brews between the punks and aliens, although it never quite generates much momentum. More interesting is the awkward relationship between Zan and Enn, and also the way aliens begin questioning the hardline rules they live by. The best scenes involve full-throated musical performances, which are reminiscent of Mitchell's even more enveloping Hedwig and the Angry Inch, touching on similar themes about the importance of love without borders.

Fanning and especially Sharp are thoroughly engaging, nicely conveying their characters' youthful naivete and hopefulness. The connection between them is cute, even though it's underdeveloped in the script. Intriguingly, Sharp has even stronger camaraderie with Lewis and Lawrence, who create likeable variations on the usual handsome idiot and chubby buffoon. Meanwhile, Kidman has a great time as the sassy, snappy punk godmother, Scanlan has surprising moments as Enn's dithery mum, and alien players including Wilson, Lucas, Brooke and Petherbridge create properly memorable oddballs.

While the film's scruffy charm and rambunctious pace is entertaining, the narrative struggles to grab hold due to the frantic tone and overworked central theme about the power of love. But Mitchell is a smart, skilled and, most importantly, ambitious filmmaker unafraid to dive into the quirkier aspects of this story (anal probes, anyone?) while always keeping the focus on the possibility of a better future if we can overcome our prejudices, expectations and constraints.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 14.May.18

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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall