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With: Alex Sharp, Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman, Ruth Wilson, Matt Lucas, Lara Peake, Eloise Smyth, Ethan Lawrence
Written by: Philippa Goslett, John Cameron Mitchell, based on a story by Neil Gaiman
Directed by: John Cameron Mitchell
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, sexual content, some drug use and nudity
Running Time: 102
Date: 05/25/2018

How to Talk to Girls at Parties (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Punk Bonds

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It suffers a bit from the stretching of a short story to feature-length, and it sometimes has a queasy quality, but otherwise, this punk sci-fi movie has everything it needs to become a cult classic.

In How to Talk to Girls at Parties, it's 1977 in the South of London and young punks Enn (Alex Sharp), Vic (A.J. Lewis), and John (Ethan Lawrence) are headed to a party. Vic has no trouble talking to girls, and tries to convince the slightly more reticent Enn to be more outgoing. They find the place, and though it turns out to be the wrong party, they decide to stay. The people there are strange, perhaps even alien, listening to strange music and dancing strange dances.

Vic has a very unsettling encounter that upsets him greatly, but Enn meets the pretty Zan (Elle Fanning). Even though it seems to upset her people, Zan leaves with Enn, full of curiosity about his life, and his world. They meet the punk godmother Queen Boadicea (Nicole Kidman), and attend — and perform at — a punk show. But, eventually, Zan must make a tough decision.

Based on a wonderful 2006 short story by Neil Gaiman, How to Talk to Girls at Parties is quite different from other works based on Gaiman stories (MirrorMask, Stardust, Coraline, etc.), in that it's more mature and much weirder. When it focuses on Enn as a regular, confused kid trying to figure things out through art and music, it sparks to life.

Director John Cameron Mitchell, who made the now-cult-classic Hedwig and the Angry Inch as well as Shortbus and Rabbit Hole, brings his unique, experimental touches to the movie, with strange, rock 'n' roll fantasy sequences and more off-beat sexuality. Whereas the through line of the longer, main story doesn't always click — it sometimes lacks drive — the wild, bizarre images that support it are always fascinating, from the aliens' colored costumes and odd grasp of language to the breathless world of punk rock music.

Sometimes these scenes can make you feel a bit trippy, but — like the somewhat similar cult classics The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Repo Man, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, or Hedwig — it's all in the name of thinking outside the box.

Lionsgate's Blu-ray release features a much bolder picture than I remembered; as grainy as it is from time to time (illustrating the run-down feel of the time and place), some of the colors really pop. The sound won me over with the brisk sound of the Damned's "New Rose" in the opening minutes. Director Mitchell and stars Sharp and Fanning provide a fun commentary track, there's a 12-minute official featurette, and nearly 8 minutes of deleted scenes, plus a bunch of trailers at startup.

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