LOST IN TRANSMISSION
on HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS AT PARTIES
How to Talk to Girls at Parties is a great title that comes attached to one of those "orphan movies" you sometimes discover by sheer accident then want to share with everyone else. Not "orphan" in the legal sense of a film abandoned by its copyright holders, but more in the sense of a film buffeted around by its context - it's been bouncing around for a while now since its ill-received 2017 premiere out of competition at Cannes, looking for distribution. And it's also an "orphan movie" because its playful, willingly anarchic sensibility has absolutely no good fit in the contemporary film scene.
Simultaneously earnest and camp, joyful and dark, retro-futuristic and utterly impossibly to be catalogued, How to Talk to Girls at Parties shares its groovy vibe both with Mike Myers' Austin Powers fish-out-of-time innuendo and Roman Coppola's underrated period fantasy CQ: it's a radio transmission from another time and place that got somehow lost in translation, being the adventures of a 1970s suburban-London wannabe-punk schoolboy who accidentally falls for an alien tourist who's grown tired of her package-tour life. The fourth feature from Hedwig and the Angry Inch creator John Cameron Mitchell, it extends to feature length a short (and slightly autobiographical) story by Neil Gaiman - and it's a riot of exacting, pitch-perfect punk-rock posturing criss-crossed with seventies op-art Clockwork Orange style, bookended by two exhilarating supporting turns from Nicole Kidman as a punk godmother and Ruth Wilson as a sexy kinky alien.
But underneath all of this, How to Talk to Girls at Parties is at heart a sweet, and very sweetly told, tale of puppy love between two kids who feel at odds with the world outside them, wonderfully played by Elle Fanning (as the ditzy alien) and Alex Sharp (as the shy punk). Mr. Mitchell has always had a particular knack for bringing out the deep truths and key emotional essences underneath his stories' usual outlandish premises (see: Hedwig, Shortbus and the massively underrated Rabbit Hole). How to Talk to Girls at Parties has all the makings of a cult classic - though it's worth wondering if, in these times of Netflix and blockbuster sequels, something as beautifully off-key as this can still flourish. Either way, make room for it.