Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce), Em (Enva Lewis) and Skye (Lara Peake) arrive in Malia, Greece for a rite-of-passage holiday that will see them drink to excess, party - and in Tara's case, losing her virginity. Amidst the raucous partying and overtly sexualised environment, Tara begins to see her friendship and the nature of sex in a new light when she meets Badger (Shaun Taylor) and Paddy (Samuel Bottomley)...
Teenage holiday movies have thus far been primarily been used for cheap laughs and humour. As much as they're fun and outrageous, they're also laced with a sometimes uncomfortable, even sinister edge that is often revealed in the hypersexualised environment. In 'How To Have Sex', there is no elder admonishment or even guidance of a sort. The camera is always placed relatively close to the characters, so that all of the excess is reflected in their eyes and so to is all of the anguish and the resentment that eventually follows.
Molly Manning Walker's script and direction keeps the details relatively clear, allowing the audience to fill in the blanks on the nature of the three main characters' relationship, and where each of them are. Much of the story, however, zeroes in on Mia McKenna-Bruce, previously seen in minor roles in the likes of 'The Witcher' and 'Persuasion'. From the get-go, we're shown that Mia's character, Tara, is often the loudest and most excessive of the three - but that it's very much a front for her own insecurities, both about her lack of perceived sexual experience and where she in her life. Anyone who's been in that phase of young adulthood will know the awkwardness, the obscured identity, and just the nervous energy that's a part of every encounter with the opposite sex. 'How To Have Sex' doesn't necessarily magnify any of this, but rather puts it into sharp focus and examines it in a way that is neither confrontational or judgmental. It merely accepts it as a reality, and presents it as such.
The editing and the cinematography play key roles in defining the emotional landscape, with Mia McKenna-Bruce very often framed in such a way as to highlight both her diminutive frame but also her insistence of doing everything the same as everyone else. She bounces around the screen in the early part of the movie. Yet by the end, we can see her character has gone through a full transition in a truly heartbreaking scene with Shaun Taylor, preceded by a disturbing one with Samuel Bottomley. Both of their characters play their roles with a genuine, considered approach. They're not necessarily two ends of a spectrum, but rather a kind of difference and a similarity that's undefined.
'How To Have Sex' is sometimes a deeply uncomfortable watch, yet there's a warmth to it at certain points that highlights it. One extended sequence finds Mia McKenna Bruce's character fall in with another group of revellers and it turns into this beautifully evocative, carefree thing that is then immediately tempered by the next night where we see the exact opposite. While it lacks definition in certain areas and is sometimes a little too slight, 'How To Have Sex' is nevertheless a fascinating and insightful examination of sexuality and relationships at a formative stage, done with care and humanity.