KVIFF 2017 Review: It’s Punks vs. Aliens in ‘How to Talk to Girls at Parties’

KVIFF 2017 Review: It’s Punks vs. Aliens in ‘How to Talk to Girls at Parties’

Six groups of celestial beings land in 1970s Croydon, England, for an extended house party that sees them clashing with local punk culture in How to Talk to Girls at Parties, a strange and almost indescribable film delivered with a dose of unhinged glee.

Directed by John Cameron Mitchell and based on a short story by Neil Gaiman (American Gods), the film evokes memories of other go-for-broke 1970s cult classics like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Phantom of the Paradise, or Quadrophenia.

But it never seems to get there itself: unlike Mitchell’s previous films, which include the transgender musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch and the NC-17 rated Shortbus, How to Talk to Girls seems downright tame save for an alien probing sequence that morphs into a metaphor for bisexuality.

While the cast - and much of the promotional material - is headlined by Nicole Kidman and Elle Fanning, Girls turns the focus on a trio of teenage boys and wannabe punks struggling to get in the door at grungy local music club.

But Enn (Alex Sharp), Vic (A.J. Lewis), and John (Ethan Lawrence) fail to make an impression with Queen Boadicea (Kidman), the acid-tongued promoter who kicks them to the curb when they show up with a hand-illustrated fanzine.

Under a leather jacket, spiky pink hair and a some generous mascara, Kidman is phenomenal in a showy role that might be part of a career resurgence. The film bursts to life whenever she’s around, which unfortunately isn’t often enough.

But she does get to feature in the film’s showstopping musical sequence alongside Zan (Elle Fanning), one of the oddball aliens who has ditched the school tour to get a real taste of punk life. It gets a little more real than expected as Queen B hand-picks her from the rabble, decks her out, and puts her on stage in front of a drooling crowd.

Fun fact: Kidman also starred alongside Fanning in The Beguiled, which also screened at this year's Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

Girls gets wild during extended sequences at the alien house party, as celestial “parent-teachers” (played by Ruth Wilson, Tom Brooke, Matt Lucas, and others) oversee their pupils in preparation for “the eating”: when the kids and their knowledge will be consumed so that life may start over again.

The alien stuff doesn’t make much sense, but it’s fun seeing the weird spectacle that Mitchell brings to the screen, complete with spandex-wearing acrobats, rejects from 1980s German dance videos, and Fanning’s delightful character, whose cluelessness is played as a running gag (she’s an American!)

The oddball beings are mistaken for a suicide club (and, well, they kinda are), setting off an extended punk versus alien climax that, well... doesn’t really go anywhere.

There’s a lot to like here, and and the gleeful presentation is almost infectious, but the film suffers when it tries to get us to care about the leading lads, who don’t seem to merit so much attention considering the spectacle that surrounds them.

Still, as a strange late-night ride, How to Talk to Girls is weird & wild enough to warrant a watch.

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