John Cameron Mitchell’s How To Talk To Girls At Parties is a weird mixture of punk and aliens in the British suburbs – and it works.
Vintage Yearby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Croydon is the unlikely setting for punk meets aliens. Based on the short story by Neil Gaiman, John Cameron Mitchell’s (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) film takes full advantage of the opportunities that offers to expand it into music, design, satire and general outrage.
Alex Sharp is Enn (short for Henry), schoolboy fanzine writer and would-be punk rocker, as the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations get under way in 1978. Searching for the afterparty for a Dyschord’s gig – a great, chaotic opening number – with his two equally naive friends, they stumble into a gathering in a mansion without realising it’s in fact a colony of interplanatory aliens who’ve taken up temporary residence before the ominous ceremony of ‘The Eating’.
The aliens are dressed in primary-coloured latex, courtesy of costume designer Sandy Powell – and perform strange gymnastic feats as a form of dance. One of them – the beautiful and innocent Zan (Elle Fanning) – is fascinated by Enn because of their total mutual misunderstanding and she is allowed out to be with him for 48 hours to “access the punk” and learn about humans. Enn takes her home to meet his bemused mum (Joanna Scanlon). One of the funniest moments comes when aliens who can “ride the humans” (in other words, take them over) speak through her mouth. Everything about human life is new and strange to Zan, from eating food to the time it takes before its excreted the next day, to experiencing what she calls “the punk”.
Nicole Kidman is unrecognisable as punk queen with attitude Boadicea, in a platinum wig, black eye make-up and a London accent, who “knew all of them in the day”. She puts Zan on stage as a newly discovered act. The film is punctuated with coloured extra-terrestrial light effects, exuberant punk gigs and other-worldly alien behaviour, each community seeming as strange as each other, all linked together by the boy-next-door quality embodied by Enn, who has no idea what’s going on around him.
It’s weird, it’s fun and surprisingly nostalgic. The coda set in 1992 makes for an even more satirical ending.
How To Talk To Girls At Parties premiered at the 70th Cannes Film Festival and screens at the 61st BFI London Film Festival on 6 and 7 October 2017.