How to Talk to Girls at Parties Review
Neil Gaiman has become one of the most well-loved and well-known cult writers of the last few years. He has had his hand in dreaming up some of your favourite comics, movies, TV shows and books. These include, but not limited to, American Gods, Stardust, Good Omens, The Graveyard Book and Coraline. He has a prolific and varied career leading him to write Lovecraftian Sherlock Holmes stories, existentialist explorations of imaginary friends and a tale personifying the months of the year.
Similarly, John Cameron Mitchell is a highly acclaimed cult filmmaker. His most well-known film is the 2001 transgender musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which he wrote directed and starred in. Similarly, he also made waves with the 2006 sexploration film Shortbus. These two are dab hands at making cult tales thanks to a unique perspective and creative flair. So when Cameron Mitchell comes to adapt a Gaiman short story, How to Talk to Girls at Parties things have got to be out of this world, right?
Enn is a punk, or at least he wants to be, he is quiet and shy. He and his friends, Vic and John, try to get invited to the best gigs and parties but they usually have to sneak into them. On their way an after party hosted by Queen Boadicea, the leader of the local punk scene, our merry band get lost and stumble upon an abandoned house. They find a party, but it is not the one that they think they are going to.
In the building as people dressed in brightly coloured latex are performing bizarre rituals. As Enn Vic goes to have sex with another guest, Stella, Enn meets Zan. Zan is frustrated with the rules and traditions that her people have. So it a streak of rebelliousness she storms out of the house with Enn. However, as Vic finds out to his horror, there is more to these people and Zan than first meets the eye.
The genius of Neil Gaiman's story is that it leaves everything up to the imagination of the reader. This short 18-page story follows Enn and his brief encounters with three girls who all subtly show that they are not of this earth. It does exactly what it says on the tin, it’s a semi-autobiographical tale about how Gaiman learned How to Talk to Girl at Parties.
We similarly do not see what happens to Vic in his liaison with Stella, but we know it was terrifying. The story ends as most Gaiman stories end, with our main character walking away from the little pocket of fantasy. This should have been an easy adaptation then: we have a mystery to explore, a great setting and an easy way to expand the narrative, as Gaiman himself says in an extra on Studio Canal's release of this Blu Ray, what if one of the girls left with the punks?
However, something that is easy on paper is rarely easy in practice. The adaptation of How to talk to Girls at Parties is the perfect example of this. While Cameron Mitchell and his team do a great job in providing exciting visuals for the alien collective and envoke a period that should cast that thin veneer of nostalgia over the older audiences, the story of How to Talk to Girls at Parties is in the kitchen talking to the host’s parents. The film sells itself as a grand adventure about first love and a fight for survival. However, while it hints at these larger concepts, the movie never connects the dots of the narratives, leaving us with a sequence of poorly explained scenes.
It is clear that the narrative took a back seat to the trippy and surreal visuals. Of course, when there are metaphysical aliens dealing with these existential issues, it is an excuse for something tremendous, and for the most part, this is true. The costumes are unique, and the cutaways to the glowing orbs are intriguing at first. Then comes the musical number, which is a highlight of the film, weaving in Gaiman's grand cosmic mystery with Cameron Mitchell’s, neon fantasies to create something truly seamless. However, all this comes at the expense of the story, and as the film goes on you are less likely to forgive the slightly cheaper looking sections as the original wonder wears off.
This weakness in narrative and focus on visuals affects the rest of How to Talk to Girls at Parties as well. Enn, played by Alex Sharp from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and Zan, who looks remarkably like Dakota Fanning’s younger sister Elle, have a great on-screen chemistry, but weak writing leads them through a cliched, manic-alien-dream-girl narrative. This is also true of Nicole Kidman's Boadica who, while looking amazing in full punk get up, never felt like a character and instead was just Nicole Kidman romping around in period costume with her mates; she could have been something exciting as the film hints at narrative paths it could have taken but decided not to.
How to Talk to Girls at Parties, as has already been mentioned is a Studio Canal release and, while the disc is well constructed with high definition visuals, thhey, unfortunately, do not do the latex costumes any favours, it is overall quite dull. The menu is simply built using the neon graffiti that the film's marketing used as well as stills from the film. The extras include a 40-second deleted scene of the boys sneaking into a club and then interviews with all members of cast and crew, including Gaiman, Cameron Mitchell, Kidman, Fanning and Sharp, that all feel more like promotional material rather than insightfully constructed interviews. Instead, they are just short talking head clips interspersed with the question as a title card without cutaways.
As Christopher Orr said in his review for The Atlantic, How to Talk to Girls at Parties is the perfect example of how not to make a cult film. It tries so hard to be different and creative and edgy just like an act of youthful rebellion. The film is all about style but has little substance and while I can forgive that a little, the way that the visuals are wrapped up into a lacklustre and poorly thought out narrative means my forgiveness can only go so far. How to Talk to Girls at Parties certainly has energy and ambition, but it is just a poser dressed as a punk.