Photos | A24 / From left: Columbia Pictures Corp.
From left: In “How to Talk to Girls at Parties,” Elle Fanning plays a young, nonhuman female, part of a wandering group of aliens who tour the galaxy gathering experiences in part of a ritual in which the elders eventually eat their young. “White Boy Rick” is the true story of teenager Richard Wershe Jr., who became an undercover informant for the FBI during the 1980s and was ultimately arrested for drug trafficking and sentenced to life in prison.
John Cameron Mitchell is the talented visionary who created the incredible, indelible musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” starring in the brilliant off-Broadway cult classic before making it into a film in 2001. That kind of creation is clearly a deeply personal labor of love, and that kind of lightning rarely strikes twice. So, even though a project that combines the 1970s British punk scene with aliens and teen love sounds entirely promising, Mitchell fails to generate magic with these narrative elements in “How to Talk to Girls at Parties.”
Broadway actor Alex Sharp plays Enn, a vivacious and sincere young man living in a London suburb, going to punk shows and generally being a young human male. Elle Fanning plays a young, nonhuman female, part of a wandering group of aliens who tour the galaxy gathering experiences in part of a ritual in which the elders eventually eat their young. If you think that’s a particularly heavy-handed metaphor for attitudes between generations, teen rebellion, punk and whatnot, you would be quite right. It is a bit too on-the-nose, like much of this film.
For example, for an actress portraying a space girl to wear her hair in two Princess Leia buns does not seem the most original choice to me. Fanning is adorable as the wide-eyed alien girl, and her eventual rock performance is a highlight of the film, but even the considerable onscreen appeal of the two young leads eventually buckled under the weight of the surrounding silliness. I found the weird alien syntax and special vocabulary tedious, and the tone strained between comic, science fiction and a romantic coming-of-age story.
Worst of all is Nicole Kidman as a punk rock high priestess, a supposed badass music club owner and promoter dressed almost exactly like David Bowie in “Labyrinth.” Never has an actress been more miscast then the stately Kidman as a punk. It is, quite simply, impossible to believe. Alien babes sprouting a second person while engaged in sexual congress was more convincing than Kidman as a hardcore punk. She can’t not be elegant.
“How to Talk to Girls at Parties” is based on a short story by no less than Neil Gaiman, but that slender source material, which I have not read, fails to blossom into a cohesive film. There is something so routine about the whole thing, which is insane considering how unusual the plot really is. The quirkiness is forced, and the imaginativeness is sterile, which is the complete opposite of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” which is gloriously out of control, wild and authentic.
This concept seems like a match made in heaven for someone like John Cameron Mitchell, who has made such unforgettable art out of themes of self-invention, sexuality and music. Unfortunately, and despite some nifty latex costuming, “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” is less than the sum of its promising parts.
“How to Talk to Girls at Parties” is currently available to rent.