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How to Talk to Girls at Parties – Extraterrestrial Punk comedy fails to live up to its unique premise
September 2, 2018
In their 1978 hit Another Girl, Another Planet, English rock band The Only Ones sing “I think I’m on another world with you/I’m on another planet with you”. Clearly a metaphor for the otherworldly feeling of infatuation, the song serves as a sort of spiritual precursor to How to Talk to Girls at Parties, directed by John Cameron Mitchell, based off the short story by legendary science fiction writer Neil Gaiman. When awkward punk Enn (Alex Sharp) meets Zan (Elle Fanning), a renegade member of an alien race currently colonising in Croydon, he shows her what it means to be human, at least in his opinion. While HTTTGAP shoots for a tone somewhere between Sing Street and The Fifth Element, the execution is muddled and the characters are thin leading to an end product that fails to live up to it’s unique premise.
One key issue with How To Talk To Girls at Parties is the one-sided relationship between Enn and Zan; Enn being the stereotypically morose, ‘nobody understands me’ cinematic teenager, seeing Zan as an opportunity to have his own ‘Cool Girl’ girlfriend. A blank slate to whom he can introduce his favourite bands and records without judgment, because she’s literally never heard music before. Someone who doesn’t realise that he’s awkward, jealous and more than a little bit weird. Essentially, Enn decides that he can project onto Zan whatever he wants, making her the ideal girlfriend. This is a played-out trope seen time and again in films and books and songs, mostly written by men, but the fact that the alien race in HTTTGAP are played as emotionless and devoid of personality makes the film feel even more icky; the free-thinking and rebellious Zan is left to choose whether to be relegated to faceless member of an alien race, or the object of Enn’s desire.
Enn brings Zan to his local punk hangout where she catches the eye of Queen Boadicea (Nicole Kidman), the ‘leader’ of the punks, so to speak. The leather-clad, steampunk look of the Croydon punk scene gives them an almost extra-terrestrial feel, cleverly mirroring the arrival of Zan’s race to earth. Kidman hams it up as Boadicea, giving her very best Vivienne Westwood via Pat Butcher impression that somehow works within Gaiman and Mitchell’s Technicolor world. Boadicea mentors Zan on how to be a woman within the very masculine punk community in a scene that feels rather at odds with the film’s nerd boy fantasy premise. In the final showdown between the punks and aliens, Mitchell does a good job of keeping the action intimate and ground-level so that the film’s lower budget never feels intrusive.
The friendship and interplay between Enn and his two best friends Vic and John is easily the most entertaining part of HTTTGAP; their dialogue is natural and funny, like a punk version of The Inbetweeners. They bicker about girls, bands selling out and write their own fanzine, making them feel remarkably genuine even while surrounded by extra-terrestrials. “They’re probably Californians”, Vic comments.
How to Talk to Girls at Parties isn’t all bad; solid performances and some entertaining characters keep the film at least watchable for most of its run-time. However, tired themes and other less developed characters mean that the film fails to leave an impact. The film feels as if it would be better if it abandoned the science fiction twist and stuck to being a charming romantic drama, like a punk rock Sing Street or High Fidelity. Credit where it’s due to all involved for at least trying to make something unique but it’s ironic that a film about punk feels bogged down by its kitchen sink approach; sometimes four chords and the truth is all you need.
The How to Talk to Girls at Parties DVD is out now.
Words by Ethan Megenis Clarke @_ethanmc
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