Film

How to Talk to Girls at Parties

Anarchy in the U.K.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Hokey aliens invade the seventies British punk scene in John Cameron Mitchell’s How to Talk to Girls at Parties, and the results are not nearly as ridiculous as that sounds—for a while, at least. Channeling the communal intimacy of Shortbus and the riotous musicality of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Mitchell transforms Neil Gaiman’s sci-fi short story into a vibrant, edgy and at times outright goofy statement on tough antiestablishment rebels and freewheeling hippie vibes, suggesting that they’re not really all that that different.

At its center, scrawny, leather-clad punk teen Enn (Alex Sharp) veers across the grimy London suburb of Croydon alongside equally rambunctious pals John (Ethan Lawrence) and Vic (Abraham Lewis), heckling at passersby en route to a noisy concert. As English rockers the Damned blast on the soundtrack, the frame rate gets jagged and the kids seem to content to run wild in the screaming underground music scene; the tableaux suggests equal parts Trainspotting and SLC Punk, but that’s only a starting point for the stranger science fiction drama to come.

After a messy night at the cramped venue run by the domineering Queen Boadicea (a wonderfully wacky, rage-filled Nicole Kidman), the boys head out in search of a house party, inadvertently stumbling onto something much stranger: a houseful of monotonous characters decked out in neon latex engaged in cryptic dances and speaking in bizarre, cultish generalities. “They must be from California,” Enn says, not quite realizing when we do that they’re actually space aliens traversing the galaxy and temporarily inhabiting human bodies.

Suddenly, the grimy realism of the opening scenes runs straight into an outlandish extraterrestrial love story. Enn meets Zan (Elle Fanning), a petite, stone-faced alien offspring unsure about her kind’s cannibalistic ways and instantly drawn to Enn’s curiosity; after a spat with her overlords, she leaves the party with a baffled Enn in tow, following him home.

While he’s entranced by what he believes to be a brainwashed soul-searcher from across the pond, she’s at war with her species, who routinely confront her by possessing the bodies of people around town in a bid to get her to return to her own kind. She has other plans. There’s a charming irreverence to this emerging courtship, particularly the way Enn’s robotic delivery strikes Zan and his peers as the words of a sheltered woman eager to rebel. “I can come with you,” she tells them, “to the punk.”

With Gaiman’s original story dispensed in the opening act, the ensuing quest to discover new freedoms roots How to Talk to Girls at Parties firmly in John Cameron Mitchell territory. “There is no progress without deviation,” one alien asserts, which may as well be Enn’s mission statement as well.

After the initial premise takes shape, the movie sags into its bizarre scenario and often fails to overcome some of the cheesier ingredients. Still, despite some uneven moments, the whole idea of Mitchell’s fixation on rough love and intimacy makes a surprisingly potent bedfellow with Gaiman’s far-reaching alien concepts.

Fanning makes her muted alien convey hints of depth as she wakes up to the world, but Sharp especially nails the yearning of a genial creative type seeking to escape his drab surroundings. They wouldn’t look out of place in your average, whimsical rom-com—but thankfully, How to Talk to Girls at Parties has more imagination than that.

Aided by Nico Muhly’s soothing score, the movie regularly hints at shrewd ideas lurking beneath its flamboyant surface. It doesn’t land all of them, but Mitchell and co-screenwriter Phillips Goslett deserve credit for trying to make such an absurd high concept work as well as it does. More importantly, after the sturdy, well-acted drama Rabbit Hole, Mitchell comes back to ambitious material about ostracized young people desperate for the solace of companionship. It’s a welcome return to form.

The movie ends on a cheery note, hinting at the prospects of a better tomorrow, and it’s a reminder that How to Talk to Girls at Parties is primarily a vessel for the attitude coursing through all of Mitchell’s work: Even the most outrageous behavior comes from a real place.

More Film...
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
The story of Mister Rogers

I’m tempted to say that the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is exactly what we need in these scabrous times, but that makes it sound too self-important. And if there is one thing that Fred Rogers, the host and creator of the beloved educational children’s show Mister Rogers’…

more »
The Rider
Home on the range

Subtle, elemental and powerfully beautiful, writer-director Chloe Zhao’s The Rider is the Western of the new century, and the most enveloping film experience I’ve had this year.

Even a hack director could make something of the southwestern South Dakota landscapes near Wounded Knee,…

more »
Oberfelder’s Cannabis Farm
The good, the bad and the happy

Much like most people who voted to make Washington one of the first states to legalize marijuana, I assume that most of those involved in the cultivation and sale of legal weed are doing just fine, if not better than that. Judging by the proliferation of pot shops, the many strains of…

more »
Events
Today
Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Bellingham Dance Company's Hunchback

7:00pm|Majestic

Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Open Air Summer Rep

7:30pm|Maritime Heritage Park

Chuckanut Writers Conference

9:00am|Whatcom Community College

Wild Things

9:30am|Marine Park

Lummi Stommish Water Festival

10:00am|Lummi Nation

Coffee Tasting

3:00pm|Camber Cafe

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Whatcom Cultural Arts Festival

5:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Fourth Friday Art Walk

5:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Beachside Barbecue

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Beachside Barbecue

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Keys for Kids

5:30pm|Stepping Stones Garden

Beachside Barbecue

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Salmon Dinner Sail

6:00pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Little Silver

7:00pm|Blanchard Chapel

Off Broadway

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Musicals and Brawls

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

2018 Cascadia Kids
Tomorrow
Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Bellingham Dance Company's Hunchback

7:00pm|Majestic

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Open Air Summer Rep

7:30pm|Maritime Heritage Park

Chuckanut Writers Conference

9:00am|Whatcom Community College

Lummi Stommish Water Festival

10:00am|Lummi Nation

Whatcom Cultural Arts Festival

5:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Keys for Kids

5:30pm|Stepping Stones Garden

Off Broadway

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Musicals and Brawls

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Plant Hike

8:00am|Hannegan Pass Trail

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Hall

Padden Triathlon

8:30am|Lake Padden Park

March Point Run

9:00am|Andeavor Refinery

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverwalk Park

Twin Sisters Market

9:00am|Nugent's Corner, North Fork Library

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am| Depot Market Square

Welcome to Chickenlandia

10:00am|Blaine Library

Lynden Farmers Market

10:00am|Centennial Park

Lummi Island Saturday Market

10:00am|Islander Grocery Store

How to Renovate an Older Urban Garden

10:00am|Roeder Home

Imagine This! Home & Landscape Tour

10:00am|Whatcom County

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

Sumas Writers Group

10:00am|Sumas Library

Inside the green building scene

10:00am

Apps & Snaps for iPhone Gardeners

11:00am|Christianson's Nursery

A Novel Affair with Nancy Pearl

11:30am|Maple Hall

Ice Cream Class for Adults

12:00pm|Lynden Library

Concrete Saturday Market

1:00pm|Concrete Community Center

Lynden Cemetery Tour

1:00pm|Lynden Cemetery

Tuesdays with Morrie

2:00pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Nooksack River Walk

3:00pm|Horseshoe Bend Trailhead

Seafood Boil

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Seafood Boil

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Saturday Seafood Boil

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Chuckanut Writers Conference Open Mics

7:00pm|Village Books Reading Gallery, Evolve Chocolate and Cafe, Lovitt Restaurant, and Magdalena's Creperie

Musical Reunion

7:00pm|YWCA Ballroom

Dudestock

7:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

An Evening with Ira Glass

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Village Books 2018 Cascadia Kids
Sunday
Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Bellingham Dance Company's Hunchback

7:00pm|Majestic

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Lummi Stommish Water Festival

10:00am|Lummi Nation

Off Broadway

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Brunch on the Bay

10:00am|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Skagit Symphony Garden Tour

10:00am|Mount Vernon

Junk in Your Trunk

10:00am|North Fork Library

Edison Farmers Market

10:00am|Edison Granary

La Conner Live

1:00pm|Gilkey Square

Women on the Water

1:00pm|Community Boating Center

Audubon at the Museum

1:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Trivia Time

3:30pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Way North Comedy Triple Header

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Take Me to Church

8:00pm|Rumors Cabaret

see our complete calendar »

Trove Web Village Books Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 2018 Cascadia Kids