Sunday, June 10, 2018

How to Talk to Girls at Parties

Based on the short story by Neil Gaiman, How to Talk to Girls at Parties is the story of a teenage boy in the late 1970s who goes to party where he befriends a mysterious young woman who is revealed to be an alien. Directed by John Cameron Mitchell and screenplay by Mitchell and Philippa Goslett, the film is a genre-bending film that explores first love as well as identity during the age of punk in Great Britain. Starring Elle Fanning, Alex Sharp, Matt Lucas, Ruth Wilson, and Nicole Kidman as Queen Boadicea. How to Talk to Girls at Parties is an exhilarating and whimsical film from John Cameron Mitchell.

Set in 1977 Britain during the age of punk, the film revolves around a young man who goes to a party where he meets a young woman unaware that she might be an alien as he introduces her to the world of punk and love. It’s a film that takes a simple premise of first love and identity as it is told in a stylistic manner that is set during the summer of 1977 where the Queen Elizabeth II’s jubilee is happening as a young teen in Enn (Alex Sharp) is a young artist trying to contribute to the world of punk by creating a fanzine with a couple of his friends in Vic (Abraham Lewis) and John (Ethan Lawrence). The film’s screenplay by John Cameron Mitchell and Philippa Goslett does play into the tropes of the coming-of-age storyline as well as the ideas of first line but there’s also some odd sci-fi moments as it relates to the young woman Enn meets in Zan (Elle Fanning) who is part of a colony of strange people as she is frustrated with their ideals until she meets Enn and his friends at the party that her leaders are hosting.

Zan’s encounter with humanity such as meeting Enn’s mother (Joanna Scanlan), dancing to soul music, eating pancakes, and other things do have elements of humor and curiosity. Notably as Zan also finds herself talking to her master PT Waldo (Tom Brooke) who would inhabit the body of someone near her in warning her about what she’s embarking. Still, Zan wants to learn about so many things as she turns to the punk leader Queen Boadicea as she is kind of this wild maternal figure for all of the young punks where she would encourage Zan to express her own feelings with Enn’s help. This would eventually lead to a conflict with the group of people Zan was with as well as those she met including Enn whom she has fallen for. It would play into the idea of individuality and humanity with Zan in the middle of this conflict as there are those that want to maintain this idea of perfection and being with these ideals also carrying some flaws in the same way that Enn’s own ideals have their own flaws.

Mitchell’s direction is stylish in the way he portrays 1977 Great Britain as well as setting it in the suburbs rather than the cities as much of it is shot on various locations in England in towns like Sheffield and suburban areas in London. While Mitchell would include some wide shots of the locations as well as some moments inside the clubs and the house where Zan and the people she’s with early in the film live in. The film opens with these strange visuals of six symbols that would represent a different colony of these mysterious visitors as Zan is part of a colony whose color is yellow and it then cuts to Enn waking up. Much of Mitchell’s direction is straightforward in terms of compositions in the way he frames the actors in a close-up or in a medium shot while he would infuse stylistic slanted shots in some scenes as well as stylistic shots that play into the frenzy of the punk rock scene.

While the meshing of sci-fi ideas and this grounded sense of drama in the punk rock world isn’t totally successful in some parts of the film. Mitchell does play into these ideals and their flaws as it relates to the third act where the punks and the aliens collide in this approach to absurd humor. Even as it would include a key musical moment in the film where Zan and Enn would sing during the second act as it play into not just the former finding aspects of herself but also the both of them connecting in ways that is indescribable in a surreal sequence. It would lead to moments in the third act as it would play into Enn’s future and how his encounter with Zan and the world of aliens and punk rock would inspire him. Overall, Mitchell creates a wild yet endearing film about a young punk who falls for a mysterious young girl in 1977 Britain.

Cinematographer Frank G. DeMarco does excellent work with the film’s cinematography from the usage of low-key and naturalistic colors for many of the daytime exteriors and interiors in the scenes at Enn’s home and in the many surroundings through a more stylish look in the lighting for the scenes in the punk club and at the home of the aliens. Editor Brian A. Kates does brilliant work with the usage of rhythmic cuts to play into the drama as well as some stylish slow-motion cuts for scenes to play into the sense of joy in some of the characters. Production designer Helen Scott, with set decorator Hannah Spice and art director Caroline Barclay, does fantastic work with the look of the punk club that Queen Boadicea lives and runs as well as the odd apartment and rooms where the aliens live at. Costume designer Sandy Powell does amazing work with the costumes from the clothes that the different aliens wear in their bright colors to the look of the punks to play into how outrageous both groups are.

Hair/makeup designer Sian Grigg does incredible work with the look of the aliens in their hairstyles and makeup as well as the look of Queen Boadicea and some of the punks as it’s a highlight of the film. Special effects supervisor Scott MacIntyre and visual effects supervisor John Bair do terrific work with the visual effects as it play into the film’s opening sequence as well as the musical performance that include this weird yet entrancing sequence that play into Enn and Zan’s love for each other. Sound editors Benjamin Cheah and Gregg Swiatlowski do superb work with the sound in the way music sounds live as well as the way objects sounds including some of the sparse moments in the film. The film’s music by Nico Muhly and Jamie Stewart is wonderful for its mixture of somber ambient music pieces along with low-key electric-folk music to play into some of the film’s dramatic moments while music supervisor Michael Hill provides a fun soundtrack of the music that was playing in the times from acts/artists such as the Damned, the Silvertones, Dub Specialist, the Dischords, A.C. Newman, the Velvet Underground, and Jamie Stewart as well as some original songs co-written by John Cameron Mitchell.

The casting by Douglas Aibel, Henry Russell Bergstein, Emily Jacobs, and Karen Lindsay-Stewart is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from Lara Peake as a six-fingered young girl named Wainswain, Jed Shardlow as a PT Stella male, Nansi Nsue as a member of the same colony that Zan is in, Jumayn Hunter as a DJ who plays music at Queen Boadicea’s home, Joey Ansah as PT named Bob, Stephen Campbell Moore as a record executive at a show early in the film, Alice Sanders as a pink-haired punk girl named Spinning Alice, and Edward Petherbridge as the alien cult leader PT First as this cult leader who is eager for all of his followers and other leaders to follow everything he believes in.

Joanna Scanlan is terrific as Enn’s mother as a kind woman who helps Zan out with the ideas of womanhood while Tom Brooke is superb as Zan’s mentor PT Waldo as an alien who is concerned about Zan’s departure and her encounter with humanity. Abraham Lewis and Ethan Lawrence are fantastic in their respective roles as Vic and John as Enn’s friends who both have different encounter with the aliens as the former becomes sexually confused while the latter is in awe of the music he hears. Matt Lucas is excellent as PT Wain as a colony leader who wants Zan out of the group believing she is a threat to what she has known as he tries to stir up trouble. Ruth Wilson is brilliant as PT Stella as a colony leader that is known for sexual stimulation as she is a being that wants to seduce humans to great pleasure.

Nicole Kidman is great in her role as Queen Boadicea as a punk leader who is trying to run a club and seek out the next big thing where she isn’t fond of a lot of people but is fascinated by Zan who she sees as someone unique as it’s Kidman at her best. Alex Sharp is remarkable as Enn as a young punk who aspires to be an artist as he befriends Zan and introduce her to punk while dealing with his own issues relating to his father and his own self-being. Finally, there’s Elle Fanning in an incredible performance as Zan as a young woman who arrives on Earth as an American teenager who would discover the world of punk and the ideas of humanity as it’s a performance filled with a sense of energy, natural comic timing, and being fierce once she starts to sing like a punk as it’s one of Fanning’s finest performances.

How to Talk to Girls at Parties is a marvelous film from John Cameron Mitchell that feature top-notch performances from Elle Fanning, Alex Sharp, and Nicole Kidman. Along with its offbeat premise, killer music soundtrack, and dazzling visuals, it’s a film that doesn’t play by the rules despite a few bumps in trying to mesh different genres. In the end, How to Talk to Girls at Parties is a remarkable film from John Cameron Mitchell.

John Cameron Mitchell Films: Hedwig & the Angry Inch - Shortbus - Rabbit Hole - The Auteurs #66: John Cameron Mitchell

© thevoid99 2018


Alex Withrow said...

Great review! Your review makes me even more excited to see this. After Rabbit Hole, which is such an unflinching film about loss and grief, I'll watch anything Mitchell puts out.

thevoid99 said...

@Alex-John Cameron Mitchell is a surprise as I knew this film got a mixed reception as I watched it with low expectations. It's flawed but it was so fun to watch and I had a ball watching that film from start to finish. People say it's a mess but I'll take messy films if it has enough moments to be entertaining and engaging.