Nicole Kidman is a woman who is quintessentially the highlight of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, with multiple films to her name including The Beguiled and The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, and another film she takes a bow in is How To Talk To Girls At Parties. The latest film from John Cameron Mitchell, adapted from a short story written by Neil Gaiman, is a concoction of punk, aliens and very much the weird – resulting in an entity that never quite grabs the attention as much as it could have.
How To Talk To Girls At Parties is an easy setup if there ever was one; set in the era where punk ruled supreme, we follow three youths in Enn (Alex Sharp) and his buddies John (Ethan Lawrence) and Vic (Abraham Lewis) as they look to get the best out of the punk boom with their own music magazine. When the trio go in search of a true punk party and end up in a surreal house occupied by strangely dressed individuals, Enn meets Zan (Elle Fanning) and his life is completely turned upside down.
As with all science fiction movies you always have to accept that there will be a level of the weird and a seismic chance that things are going to head a little cosmic. That’s all rather acceptable in the grand scheme of things, but in the case of How To Talk To Girls it all feels just way too messy and bizarre just for the sake of it. In fact, considering the film opens with a rather interesting pre-cursor for what many would assume as a true acknowledgement to the age of punk it does falter very early on.
While mentions of The Sex Pistols, The Ramones et al do occur, they’re merely passers by in a film that is too concerned with the obscure and delving into the alien side of things, and that’s where it all goes pear-shaped. Ditching the early hints of the classic music to go all colour co-ordinated and strange, How To Talk To Girls instead opts for its core story to explore Elle Fanning’s own community rather than keeping thing grounded with the music focus. True, time on screen with Elle Fanning is never a bad thing – this another example of why she simply shines on the screen – but things just don’t feel right and never connect.
While Fanning is great with the fish-out-of-water content of Zan, there is the sheer embarrassment of Nicole Kidman, somewhat channeling Bowie in Labyrinth mixed with Russell Brand, along with Ruth Wilson and Matt Lucas in roles that one would imagine they may want to forget any time soon. Then there’s Alex Sharp’s Enn who will certainly divide audiences with his less-than-punk demeanour and honest nature; very much a character who is a good representation of the film’s marmite nature.
How To Talk To Girls At Parties is a strange beast. Not enough punk and way too much of the alien element make this one a bizarre concoction that feels like experimental cinema gone rather wrong. Fanning is great as ever, Kidman massively unforgettable and the music rather lacking in a film that won’t be talked about much come the close of Cannes 2017.