"How to Talk to Girls at Parties" (R, 1:42) is a (kind of) sci-fi (sort of) romantic comedy, with a heavy dose of music. The film is directed by John Cameron Mitchell ("Rabbit Hole", "Shortbus", "Hedwig and the Angry Inch") and co-written by Mitchell and Philippa Goslett ("Mary Magdalene", "Holy Money", "Little Ashes"), based on the short story by Neil Gaiman. While calling this movie a romantic comedy is technically correct, it's not the sweet, coming-of-age rom-com you might expect based on the title and the movie poster. This a very unusual (some might say weird) story about punk rockers and aliens.
It's 1977 in the London suburbs. Punk rock is a mostly underground movement, but thriving. It's a youth-focused lifestyle of hard-driving music, edgy fashion and strong belief in individuality, with a side goal of social chaos - and Enn (Alex Sharp) and his friends are all in. They love, live, breathe and eat punk culture. After the punk club which they're attending one Friday night hits closing time, they head for an after-hours party. They get lost trying to find the party, but stumble upon a condemned house that is full of life. Several groups of people in color-coded vinyl/rubber outfits are inside dancing strangely to other-worldly instrumental music. Somehow, these three outsiders get invited in. One of Enn's friends gets into the dancing, the other becomes involved in a highly unusual sex act (implied, but not directly shown) and Enn starts talking to a shy and clearly unhappy yellow-clad girl called Zan (Elle Fanning).
When Enn leaves the house party, Zan gets permission from her "parent teacher" (as she and her peers call their elders) to spend 48 hours with Enn before she and her people have to leave (and commence to something they refer to as "the eating"). Zan is fascinated by Enn and says she wants to "see the punk". She spends the day with Enn and his friends and that night, they all go to a punk club, where the club's "Queen" (played by Oscar winner Nicole Kidman) encourages/forces Zan to go on stage. Meanwhile, through all of this, Zan's people keep finding her and expressing the group's concern about the ways she is expressing her new (albeit temporary) freedom and tries to make her choose between them and Enn.
"How to Talk to Girls at Parties" is creative, but too odd for many to find entertaining. Some of the cinematography and editing resembles stop-motion animation, which some may find cool, but more will find annoying. The mannerisms of Zan's people might seem clever and/or funny in small doses, but eventually cross the line to simply over-the-top and... weird. The script is often illogical, while also original and includes interesting metaphors... but that only goes so far towards making the movie entertaining. Wolfe and Fanning give good performances and their love story is touching and fun, but the rest of the movie that surrounds them chokes much of the joy out of watching them. "C"
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