By all accounts mixing the punk era of Britain and alien visitors feels like an idea so crazy it might work. It would certainly raise the eyebrows of producers looking for a big hit. I was wondering how far the film would take the punk ideology. Would it break film conventions in an anarchy style echoing the attitude of youth in 1970’s London, or is it simply using it as an interesting backdrop? How to Talk to Girls at Parties is certainly tearing down something as this felt a lot more experimental than normal accompanied by filmmaking elements that seem to shout off the screen. However, it’s not so great points carry such weight to it that it seems to overcomplicate what could have been a very simple, effective story.
The most important part of this film for me was to get it’s setting right if this film didn’t transport its audience back to the 70’s the entire narrative would have curdled on itself and inevitably fall apart. I’m pleased to report however that director John Cameron Mitchell has done a marvelous job bringing the outlandish era-defining attitude to the big screen. But how is this achieved? Well its partially down to the aesthetic look of the film. a display of colour, both bright and dark, matches the energic pacing at which the narrative is told. Nowhere is this truer than in the costumes that look like they should belong in a modern fashion show. On the one hand, you have the reckless clothing of the punks and on the other, you have the aliens dressed is vibrant ultramodern clothing.
The two leading roles in Enn (Alex Sharp) and Zan (Elle Fanning) I felt were pretty good, I will say that Elle Fanning had the better performance purely because her moral dilemma of wanting to do something more than observe humanity felt a lot stronger than Enn trying to fit into the punk culture. One scene at a punk gathering where the two characters sing exuberates a lot of energy from a shouty performance. This is also a scene where the experimental side of the film kicks in as we are shown psychedelic visions that from a filmmaker’s perspective are visually stunning, although some would question what purpose they serve other than being like something from a music video.
Now, this could have been a nice romantic story with a wannabe punk and a touring alien, but How to Talk to Girls at Parties doesn’t do simple. Because of this overcomplication, the film lacks a central story. The stories at play are gear grinding and feel so clunky that focus is darted around which made the audience uninterested in what’s happening. The main story isn’t the romance, it’s not the aliens, so what is it?
In all honesty, it is when the film tries to intricately explain the cultural and moral side of the aliens that is the biggest struggle to sit through. Although the film tries to explain who the aliens are and why they’re here, we still know little to nothing about them. We understand they are visitors on some sort of intergalactic, educational holiday, but the film then tries to give them an interesting, detailed insight into their background which the audience doesn’t care about because the relationship between Enn and Zan is so much more interesting. I would have preferred the aliens on holiday was kept in the background and not given too much limelight, but just enough to keep it fresh in the audience’s minds. In doing this, you put time pressure on the relationship of Enn and Zan, making it more emotional when they inevitably must go their separate way.
The film tries to compensate for its lack of central story but having its themes speak louder. The film stresses how important individualism is to “access the punk” but one can also see the aliens as conformists with strict values and traditions. Therefore, is this a film that pits these two social influences against each other? We never seem to find out as the film is too busy trying to create an expansive world. There are stories where an expansive world broadens our perspective and is used as a kind of second character, How to Talk to Girls at Parties is not one of those stories.
What sets me back about this film is the premise is so intriguing. So much could be done with this, but a boy meets girl scenario have to be kept simple and focused. What John Cameron Mitchell has done is tried to make an adaptation of a short story complex. The aliens are uninteresting, the whole film feels as though too many stories trying to squeeze into a tiny spotlight and the filmmakers behind this have blown the film’s potential way out of proportion making it something that it cannot be. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyed. Look at a film like Attack the Block, a small film with a cult status. If we’re judging How to Talk to Girls at Parties by those standards, then it fits comfortably in that spot. I enjoyed the visuals, the colour, the striking outfits and by its visual appearance alone, it can garner a few followers. But for a mainstream audience, this film is going to pass on by.
Final Result: 4/10 – Below Average
Have you seen How to Talk to Girls at Parties? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
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