How to Talk to Girls at Parties: A Punk-Era Brexit 

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click to enlarge Nicole Kidman co-stars in How to Talk to Girls at Parties


Nicole Kidman co-stars in How to Talk to Girls at Parties

Your own appetite for the outre will most certainly factor into how much you enjoy How to Talk to Girls at Parties, an outlandish, sometime stumbling but ultimately sweet trip back to the 1970s—not the KC and the Sunshine Band '70s, mind you, but the chaotic '70s of the Ramones and Sex Pistols. Based on an 18-page short story of the same name by Neil Gaiman (Stardust), the yarn is rolled out and stretched to its limits by director/co-screenwriter John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch).

Critics are already wildly divided on How to Talk to Girls: New York Magazine wrote that the film is a "legitimate eyesore," while The Independent called it "wondrous" and "inspired." Count me with the latter. I'm as stodgy as the next old white guy, but even I can look back at the punk scene with some amount of fondness.

In How to Talk to Girls, teenager Enn (Alex Sharp, who lit up Broadway in The Curious Incident of the Dog) and his leather-clad mates are true believers in punk, crawling through grimy London music dens until they happen upon one particularly prickly pub. The music is insane, but it pales in comparison to the all-in-black, spike-haired, F-bomb-throwing madwoman in the corner. Heavens to Betsy, it's Nicole Kidman as Queen Boadicea, a nutcase who promotes atrocious punk rock acts when she's not welding metallic wardrobes for her artists—no, seriously. Kidman appears to be having a blast in the film, and she chews so much scenery that she should swear off fiber for life.

But back to Enn. He and his friends next stumble upon a bizarre group of tourists who are holed up in a rented London mansion. But their taste in fashion (all plastic), music (metronomic) and just about everything else makes the punk scene seem downright buttoned-down. Among the group, who for some bizarre reason speak in American accents, is a teenage girl named Zan (Elle Fanning, featured in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Maleficent). Zan decides to stage a private rebellion, conducting her own little Brexit from her brood to get a taste of Enn's punk-fueled freedom.

However, don't think for a moment that How to Talk to Girls evolves into a run-of-the-mill rom-com. The film takes a hard left turn into science fiction, and when it's not going off the rails the only normalcy in it is chaos. Think of Xanadu on crack cocaine. Or Splash on meth.

click to enlarge Elle Fanning (left) and Alex Sharp (right) co-star in How to Talk to Girls at Parties - A24
  • A24
  • Elle Fanning (left) and Alex Sharp (right) co-star in How to Talk to Girls at Parties

The supporting cast includes Ruth Wilson (so wonderful in Showtime's The Affair) and Matt Lucas (Little Britain).

But the highest praise goes to Mitchell, who's accustomed to burning down the house as an actor (the title role in Hedwig on Broadway and in film) and director (2010's Rabbit Hole, which secured Ms. Kidman an Oscar nomination). Mitchell and co-writer Philippa Goslett's How to Talk to Girls screenplay honors all the tang of Gaiman's original short story and adds the dollop of sweetness necessary to sustain a believable love story. Ultimately, How to Talk to Girls harkens back to a handful of other unconventional but crazy/lovely Brit films that initially defied convention but improved with age: A Hard Day's Night (1964), Quadrophenia (1979) and Trainspotting (1996), to name a few.

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How to Talk to Girls at Parties
Rated R · 102 minutes · 2018
Official Site:
Director: John Mitchell
Producer: Iain Canning, Howard Gertler, John Mitchell, Emile Sherman, Peter Fornstam, Neil Gaiman, Rose Garnett, Hugo Heppell, Josie Ho, Winnie Lau and Michael Werner
Cast: Elle Fanning, Alex Sharp, Nicole Kidman, Ruth Wilson, Matt Lucas, Lara Peake, Eloise Smyth, Ethan Lawrence, Hebe Beardsall, Tom Brooke, Joey Ansah, Alice Sanders and Jumayn Hunter

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