One of the latest to hit Aussie shores from Cannes, Neil Gaiman fans won’t be the only ones left wanting.
The prolific writer somehow only a marginal fixture in Hollywood, How to Talk to Girls at Parties, adapted from one of Gaiman’s short stories, will hopefully be no one’s first or last exposure to the author.
The one punk-sci-fi-psychedelic flick you can afford to miss, Enn (Alex Sharp), one of three Sex Pistols obsessed teens, hits up the gigs in Croydon every night, only to mistakenly stumble upon what appears to be a cult of lycra-clad ultra-sensory misfits, read: aliens. Among them Zan, played by Elle Fanning, for at least the fourth time this year cast as some sort of ingenue sporting darker undertones, she sets out with Enn on a curiosity mission to discover earth, and this phenomenon of which she has only heard tell; punk.
The significance of Sid Vicious famously proclaiming in arguably the Pistol’s most famous song “I am an anarchist, don’t know what I want but I know how to get it” may have been lost on many a follower but, in one of the film’s few redeeming aspects, is thankfully not squandered on the screenwriters. Unpacking the central appeal and contradictions of the form and too the very ethos advanced by the genre’s most formidable champions, How to Talk to Girls at Parties delves into, if a little explicitly, what otherwise might have been shelved for an additional banging number or two.
This is at least true of the beginning, heralding one of few charming scenes in a club where we are also introduced to Nicole Kidman’s punk ringleader, sporting a look that can only have been inspired by endless viewings of Labyrinth. The final scene similarly achieving some level of endearment if only for its mooted self-awareness, in the film’s intervening bulk it’s misgivings are unabating.
Never settling too long on anything actually resembling an aboundingly subversive edge for it’s black-clad rebels or abundantly imaginative for its interstellar dalliers, nor for that matter adequately exploring the resoundingly ironic pairing when the twain do meet, the tone is never so eclectic as it is confusingly oscillated and perpetually frustrating.
Lacking a central figure to whom an audience can be roundly empathetic, Enn’s treatment of Zan recalls many of the tired and not unregrettable tropes of science fiction serials past. Recently coined by the Pop Culture Detective Agency as the state of being Born Sexy Yesterday, many of Enn’s interactions with the newly-arrived, outwardly naive Zan are never, as the character might hope, so romantic as they are ill-advisedly the subject of the film’s zestful treatment. An explicit acknowledgement of this dynamic in the scene where the two first meet, intended as a joke, is only one of the many ‘laughs’ throughout that either falls flat or is, to say the least, ill-considered.
Doing sparing justice to each of it’s key inspirations, Neil Gaiman and the great tradition of punk have a lot to offer cinema, precious little of which get’s a decent showing here. For anyone who thought the title is indicative of the film’s content, this is not the way to talk to girls at parties.
How to Talk to Girls at Parties screened as part of the British Film Festival