How to Talk to Girls at Parties

How to Talk to Girls at Parties

2018, R, 102 min. Directed by John Cameron Mitchell. Starring Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman, Alex Sharp, Ruth Wilson, Matt Lucas, Joanna Scanlan, Elarica Johnson, Tom Brooke, Joey Ansah, Lucy Jayne Murray, Alice Sanders, Ethan Lawrence, Abraham Lewis.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., June 1, 2018

"Tell me more about the punk," says alien tourista Zan (Fanning) to Enn (Sharp), and away we go. Where is anybody’s guess, even if you’re familiar with the short story by Neil Gaiman from which this honestly bizarre feature-length film is adapted. There’s bits and bobs of his otherworldly romanticist’s worldview scattered like tiny land mines of sanity throughout this otherwise bonkers film, but fans of Gaiman’s superb Starz television series American Gods will either be nonplussed or initiate outright anarchy in the theatre, UK ’77-style, when confronted with director and screenwriter Mitchell’s outrageous and defiantly over-the-top-and-beyond-the-fringe take on the author’s low-key love story.

Mitchell, who directed festival favorite Shortbus after creating the manic cinematic panic of Hedwig and the Angry Inch – following a wildly successful off-Broadway theatrical version in 1998 – stretches a thin storyline to breaking point and beyond. You won’t learn anything about how to talk to girls, or boys, at parties here, but this just might rekindle your vague interest in Blue Man Group and powder pink and baby blue vinyl intergalactic orgies. Amazingly, it all works up to a point, although at approaching two hours in length, it could’ve easily shaved its bifurcated mohawk down by a good 15 minutes.

Some musicals are guaranteed audience-pleasers. How to Talk to Girls at Parties is an audience-divider if ever there was one. It wins you out despite itself thanks to certifiable chemistry between Fanning’s saucer-eyed Zan, herself a rebellion of one, and Sharp’s Enn (“It’s short for Henry"). You can tell it’s the Queen’s 1977 Silver Jubilee in the grimy and depressing London suburb of Croydon because a) everyone keeps mentioning it, and b) a title card informs you of the fact. A bravura opening title sequence set to the volatile teenage beat of the Damned’s “New Rose” begs the question, “Is she really going out with him?” Sometimes the whole movie seems to hinge entirely on its distinctive use of pronouns, or the lack thereof, as Zan is part of an alien collective that travels the multiverses by inhabiting the bodies of whatever local life forms are around. “I have been a star,” Zan tells Vivienne Westwood SEX knockoff and local adult venue owner Boadicea (Kidman, particularly fearless here). “I once harmonized with a brown dwarf!” As Jack Lemmon might say apropos of Mitchell’s madcap chaos, “Well … imagine that.” Enn and his best mates (Lawrence, Lewis) are punk as fuck-ish and get as much in return from these libidinous interstellar visitors, but watching Mitchell’s film I was too often reminded that somewhere down the Thames, Derek Jarman was shooting his subversive masterpiece Jubilee as Johnny Rotten sneer-howled atop a rented-for-the-occasion party barge, and Malcolm McLaren got his keister tossed in a London dungeon for pissing off the coppers. Now that’s what I call music.

As for How to Talk to Girls at Parties, the standout sequence has Zan and Enn singing a blistering duet about her race’s predilection for cannibalism and, woe, the pointlessness of it all. In the end it turns out that Love really is all you need, but sometimes even that isn’t quite enough. John Cameron Mitchell party underway: Enter at your own risk.

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More John Cameron Mitchell Films
Rabbit Hole
In the wake of their child's death, a couple tries to claw their way back to "normal" life.

Marjorie Baumgarten, Jan. 14, 2011

John Cameron Mitchell's sophomore film effort asserts – with great gusto and even a brass band – our universal right to sexual happiness.

Marrit Ingman, Oct. 13, 2006

More by Marc Savlov
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Jan. 8, 2021


How to Talk to Girls at Parties, John Cameron Mitchell, Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman, Alex Sharp, Ruth Wilson, Matt Lucas, Joanna Scanlan, Elarica Johnson, Tom Brooke, Joey Ansah, Lucy Jayne Murray, Alice Sanders, Ethan Lawrence, Abraham Lewis

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