The year is 1977 and teenager Enn (Alex Sharp), like his two best friends and many of the Croydon locals, is a lover of the punk rock music scene. After a night in their favourite club, the lads wander into a strange household, drawn in by its music. Inside, they find a group of people wearing neon-coloured latex onesies, engaging in strange conversations and freaky sex and dance rituals. When they leave, a girl called Zan joins them, who they come to realise is an alien, frustrated by her tribe’s traditions and eager to explore the world of punk.
The director of How to Talk to Girls at Parties, John Cameron Mitchell, is best-known for originating the title role in the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and reprising it in the 2001 film adaptation which also marked his directorial debut. This film, his fourth feature, marks a return to his roots as both films look at communities devoted to music and anarchy. Within the first couple of scenes, one isn’t really sure if they’re looking at an arthouse effort, a teen comedy á la The Inbetweeners, or a rebellion-themed musical like The Commitments. In the end, it is none of these, but the result is not so much admirably unique as bafflingly incomprehensible.
Aside from Fanning, the alien cast include the likes of Ruth Wilson, Matt Lucas and Tom Brooke, whose latex-oriented clothes recall the 2009 Irish comedy Zonad. In fairness to the actors, they throw themselves devotedly into this alien world, but rather than having the fascination evoked by the beautiful and violent imagery inherent in Fanning’s film The Neon Demon, the weirdness of How to Talk to Girls is isolating. It lacks aesthetic appeal or any lasting hold.
At one point, Enn and Zan perform in the local night club and so begins a psychedelic montage, which, again, is just too weird to get into (and reminds one of that weird Harry Potter and Hermione nude scene in Deathly Hallows). The love between the two young characters is meant to be the emotional hold of the film, but their characters are dull and unfunny. And then there’s Nicole Kidman playing this punk ‘mom’/manager in a just plain cringe-worthy performance. Full of lame effects, loud music and splashes of highlighter colour, How to Talk to Girls lacks substance or even real style. If there’s meant to be a hidden deeper meaning to the film, it’s beyond this reviewer’s comprehension.