How To Talk To Girls At Parties (2017)

JOHN CAMERON MITCHELL

Bil’s rating (out of 5):   BB.5.  /USA, 2017.  , .  Screenplay by , , based on the short story by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by , , John Cameron Mitchell, .  Music by , .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .  Cannes Film Festival 2017.  

Three teenage boys hit the town looking for the fun that London’s late seventies punk scene promises, sneaking into a club in search of girls to hit on before being told that even more ribaldry will be had at the after-party.  Going in search of the second location, the boys get lost and take refuge at the wrong place, entering a house party in which strange people in bright plastic clothing (the terrific costumes are by Sandy Powell) indulge in cultish behaviour.  The boys manage to escape before anything too serious happens to them, but not before charming Enn () catches the eye of beautiful Zan () and she runs off with him, defying her elders who, like her, are aliens visiting earth.  The visitors have come to take part in a ritual that they hope will save their race, but Zan wants to find out about the place she is visiting and get the experience of being close with a local (and there’s nothing more delicious than Fanning’s perfectly clipped voice instructing Enn to take her to “the punk”).  When things heat up and Zan’s people drag her back into the fold, Enn calls his friends in to help save her, and if there’s one thing more threatening than aliens with anal probing obsessions, it’s London punk kids who don’t listen to their parents.  John Cameron Mitchell tries mixing the heady science-fiction elements of the kind that Neil Gaiman, upon whose story this is based, normally provides with a rebellious, Liquid Sky-type alien-as-rebellious-art-metaphor and the result is, like its cast, uneven.  The invented culture is the more successful aspect of the film’s aesthetic effort, the aliens’ world is smartly worked out and beautifully designed, while the recreation of the period is never convincing, particularly a shallow rendering of the punk scene that never hits the Jubilee notes that it is possibly aiming for.  Charming performances from the two young leads keep the film grounded thanks to their chemistry, but celebrity cameos from the likes of and  are distracting, and , reuniting with her Rabbit Hole director, as Boadicea, “Queen” of the punk underworld, is simply out of place.  Gleaming with movie star shine, her costume and wig more like something in an anime film than Sid and Nancy, she’s miscast in a role that a Joanna Lumley type would be far better suited to, never convincing as someone who has been partying too long and tired of how little she’s gotten back from it.  Kidman doesn’t have enough screen time for this to be the major destabilizing factor, since what really keeps this one from being satisfying is that its light and inventive tone gives way to something heavy in the last third that it never really earns, particularly weighed down by incomprehensible dialogue in which the aliens argue their ethics in the film’s muddled climax.  All this said, the film’s long and difficult journey, shot in 2015 and not premiered until Cannes 2017 and then held from release for yet another year, is hard to understand considering that it is definitely the type of thing that will find a devoted and loving cult fanbase.

 

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