Sunday 8 October 2017

How To Talk To Girls At Parties

Spiking The Punk

How To Talk To Girls At Parties
UK/USA 2017 Directed by John Cameron Mitchell
London Film Festival screening 7th October 2017

So here we go with another year of films at the London Film Festival and, I have to say, this year has got to be one of the best line ups of interesting films that I’ve seen at the LFF in quite some time. Certainly, since joining the BFI almost 30 years ago, I’ve not seen a Festival Programme filled with quite so many movies I either can’t afford to go and see or being shown at times too inconvenient for someone who relies on the overground railway to get them home at night. So I’ve had to miss out on some real interesting debuts like Let The Corpses Tan and I am just hoping I’ll somehow get to see some of the ones that got away in some kind of release or another (although, I suspect like most years, some of them won’t get any kind of commercial release with English subtitles). So my first film in this year’s programme was How To Talk To Girls At Parties and I was off to a good start because it’s a real corker.

How To Talk To Girls At Parties is based on an award winning short story by comic book writer extraordinaire (among other things) Neil Gaiman. I’ve admired Gaiman as someone who can weave words together in a meaningful way ever since reading his character Death from his much revered DC Vertigo comic, The Sandman. I’ve not read this short story but, looking at a quick synopsis of it on Wikipedia, I can see that the film takes the kernel of Gaiman’s source material and then expands on it in a, perhaps less subtle but certainly cinematic way.

The film revolves around Enn (played by Alex Sharpe) and his two school friends who are all into the punk scene. Which makes sense since this is set in deepest, darkest Croydon of 1977 and everybody is celebrating The Queen’s Silver Jubilee (ahh, I remember that street party well). The three go to a punk gig to try to hook up with Queen Boadicea, who is a kind of promoter on the punk scene and played, totally against type but totally brilliantly, by Nicole Kidman. When the boys get lost and go to the wrong 'after party', they instead crash a gathering of people who are all kitted out in latex costumes much like the ones you’d see in a Skin Two magazine or buy from Honour Clothing. They are all indulging in strange, fetishistic rituals... which makes perfect sense because, as it turns out, Enn and his mates have stumbled on a colony of aliens living among us. Things get strange but Enn meets a beautiful, young girl called Zan, played by Elle Fanning and... the two fall in love. However, Zan has only 48 hours to get as many experiences from Enn and his ‘punk scene’ before committing human suicide (kinda) and returning to the alien form in which she appears to roam the galaxy with her species. Which makes things complicated.

Everybody is brilliant in this and the film pitches some nicely observed comedy against some poignant and touching scenes as both Enn and Zan experience emotions and adventures in what could be their first and last two days together. The humour is mostly centred on the cultural differences between Enn and his mates and the race of aliens with Fanning and her species playing off the standard ‘fish out of water’ scenario as she mistakes various Earth customs and sayings while Enn and his mates mistake the aliens for ‘Californians’ and use this to explain away some of the, actually very alien, things they see.

The director uses different kinds of camera work for the movie including some montage sequences where the camera speed and stock is played with to make it both more gritty and ethereal at the same time but he also brings us some very crisp compositions and sharp, brightly lit colour palettes to offset that a lot of the way through. It’s almost like a meeting of two worlds in terms of the way different styles of shooting the thing are thrown together... which, of course, is exactly what the film is representing. So it’s a nice way of showing it.

I’m seeing that this hasn’t been getting very good reviews from previews in other countries and I have to wonder why that is because I found it an absolute joy to watch from start to finish. The only thing I can think of which might be off putting is that the film is... not only ‘so very British’ but it’s also capturing a time of living in Great Britain that is barely recognisable now. The punk scene in the 1970s was gritty, raw, loud and in your face and the director really manages to show this. Indeed, when the film started I had absolutely no sympathy or empathy for these three punk urchins blagging their way into a venue without paying but, very quickly as the film progressed, my heart started to melt and get into the journey of the movie with them and... well... it helps that the film is quite funny in places. The first kiss... or attempt at one... between Enn and Zan is... well, I don’t want to spoil it for you here but the audience responded to it with a lot of laughter. It was a pretty well received film, I can tell you, judging by the brilliant audience response it was getting here.

As the film continued on and transported me into a love story which isn’t a million miles away from Romeo And Juliet in tone, I realised that the lead actor looked a little bit like Neil Gaiman and, then I figured out why he was called Enn (presumably, the letter ‘N’ for Neil). Indeed, after a heart wrenching ending which, again, I am certainly not going to spoil for you here, there’s a wonderful epilogue where the story jumps something like 15 years and Enn is signing a novel based on his experiences at a bookshop reminiscent of the old Forbidden Planet signings you used to get in Denmark Street and St. Giles High Street in the 1980s (of course, Forbidden Planet still do signings regularly but the look and feel of this one, with issues of 2000AD and The Sandman on display in the window, seemed just like a part of my childhood recaptured... although the early 1990s setting might be a little late for the atmosphere being evoked here). Again, I’m not going to spoil the wonderful epilogue scene for you here but what this did, to me, is drum home how much the movie incarnation of the character was partially based on Neil Gaiman... or at least a fictional Neil Gaiman who maybe never existed like this in real life. Who can tell... well , yeah, alright, Neil Gaiman could tell but I doubt somehow he’s going to be reading this review and providing me with an answer to that one.

Anyway, that’s my first of this year’s London Film Festival movies and, I have to say, it was a thoroughly enjoyable one. If I had any one minor complaint about How To Talk To Girls At Parties it’s that the three ‘school chums’ looked way older than the ages they were supposedly playing but, that’s okay, they all did a really great job here and it was pretty easy to suspend disbelief on this stuff when the script and performances of everyone in this movie are so good. I would love to see this released over here at cinemas and would also love to be able to pick it up as a Blu Ray at some point so... you know... here’s hoping this one somehow manages to grab the success it certainly deserves. I, for one, haven’t got a bad thing to say about it.

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