It is 1977. Croydon, London. Enn (Alex Sharp) and his two punk friends sneak into a club and subsequently search for the after party they weren’t invited to. Instead, they stumble upon a much different party. A much stranger party. Men and women, clad in leather suits that accent their genitals, mill about. People in blue body suits dance robotically. People in yellow body suits enjoy their individuality and physical form.
It’s all a bit, dare I say, alien.
It isn’t hard to put that together when Enn falls in with one of the yellow-suited lot. Zan (Elle Fanning) makes reference again and again to her wonder at her own physical form. She asks questions about body parts. When she sits to use the toilet, she mentions that it is her first time trying such a thing.
It isn’t a spoiler to say she’s an alien of some sort. But tell that to anyone in the world of How to Talk to Girls at Parties, and they will be shocked. Some characters never pick up on the not-so subtle differences between Zan and the average American tourist. It takes others over 24 hours of direct contact with the character to piece it together.
This lack of self-awareness creates a layer of disbelief over the film that is hard to reconcile. The film makes comedy out of its out-of-this-world race of alien people, but when it tries to add some emotional stakes the strangeness becomes hard to accept. The world is never afforded an entryway from which the viewer can find themselves getting emotionally invested in the silly conceit.
And, ultimately, the YA romance that comes from the conceit feels rather sterile. For a premise that could yield promising world building, it is wasted on a conventional exploration of youth exercising youthful non-conformity.
The most intriguing narrative element, in fact, has nothing to do with the YA or alien aspects. The manager at a punk bar, played with tenacity by Nicole Kidman, is both the best performance and best character in the film. While having little to do with the A-plot, her characters’ hidden resentment for the punk acts that made it big in spite of her and her eventual attempt to live vicariously through Zan is more fascinating than anything Zan and Enn get up to throughout the remainder of the film.
Unfortunately, Kidman’s performance does not make up a large portion of the film. Instead, we get vignette-like fish out of water moments with Zan and a hormonal love story that leads to a irritatingly clunky climax.
How to Talk to Girls at Parties makes for an interesting concept ill-serviced by under-cooked plotting. The weirdness of the alien faction on display is never used for anything inspiring or fantastical. Instead, it is merely a device used to make the YA narrative more quirky. The blending of genre doesn’t mix to a palatable color.
How to Talk to Girls at Parties: C
As always, thanks for reading!
Like CineFiles on Facebook for updates on new articles and reviews
Check out my page on Letterboxd
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)