How to Talk to Girls at Parties, based on the short story by Neil Gaiman, is a unique (for lack of a better term), but bizarre, film. Its title is also deceiving because a film about how to properly engage with the opposite sex this is not. Instead, there’s a lot of punk, forced “I love yous,” and an attempt to build an entire world that gets too big, while also trying to stay grounded. Actor-turned-director John Cameron Mitchell has grand ideas, but they are too outlandish and quickly spiral out of control after the first half hour.
Enn (Alex Sharp) and his friends, John (Ethan Lawrence), and Vic (Abraham Lewis) are in a punk band together. It’s London in the 1970s and punk is everywhere, so it’s easy for them to get overlooked. Enn ends up at Queen Boadicea’s (Nicole Kidman) party, a woman wanting music executives to discover the bands who come to play at her place. While there, he meets Zan (Elle Fanning), a seemingly normal girl who is anything but. Enn is immediately drawn to Zan and the two connect. But it turns out that Zan isn’t exactly human and she, along with her friends, comes from another galaxy. When it’s discovered that there’s a ritual that is to be performed, Enn is having none of it and calls on his friends and their entire punk scene to help him protect Zan. The question becomes whether he and Zan can carry on a life together after all is said and done.
The marriage of punk and aliens is an interesting one, and not the good type of interesting. Even worse is that the film tricks you into thinking that it’s about a teen who simply has issues having normal conversations and meeting girls at parties. But the title has nothing to do with the film at all. How to Talk to Girls at Parties is, at face value, nonsensical. Is it ultimately about love? Is it about saving the world from a cult-like alien species, or is it about Enn trying to make it in the punk world? In the end, it’s about none of these things and that’s the most deceptive part of all. There’s nothing to care about and, save for a few chuckle-worthy moments near the end of the film and its style, there’s nothing good about the story. It’s a jumbled mess of a film that relies on spectacle and absurdity while drawing on elements of sci-fi to create a bizarre dark punk comedy that falls completely flat. Even the romance between Enn and Zan is heavily underdeveloped and not worth rooting for and once things start unfolding, they quickly spiral out of control.
The film wastes a lot of potential and, instead of watching characters and a story with depth, feels empty and quite shallow. The cast’s talents aren’t enough to save the film from being underwhelming, frustrating, and dull. How to Talk to Girls at Parties is overshadowed by its need to be eccentric and so it’s hard to take it very seriously even when it’s trying to take itself seriously.
"How to Talk to Girls at Parties" is overshadowed by its need to be eccentric and so it’s hard to take it very seriously even when it’s trying to take itself seriously.