How To Talk To Girls At Parties film review Cannes 2017: alien punk musical

Does John Cameron Mitchell’s film of Neil Gaiman’s short How To Talk To Girls At Parties sink or sing?

A punk musical about a teenage boy hooking up with an alien based on a short story by Neil Gaiman should be bonkers and awe inspiring. The costumes are designed by Sandy Powell and the entire project is overseen by the man who directed and starred in cult musical Hedwig And The Angry Inch.

All the ingredients for something cosmically grand are there and yet the meeting of all these great minds results in something that manages to be both wildly inventive and weirdly derivative.

It’s 1977 in Croydon where Enn (Alex Sharp) and his two friends, John and Vic, are searching for an afterparty. When they come across a house packed full of strange and alluring beings their minds are blown. These creatures look human, but all dress in colour coded outfits and adhere to a strict regime laid out by each branch.

Zan (Elle Fanning), who takes the form of a teenage girl with blonde locks, is sick of it all and when she meets Enn they form an instant connection over his punk ideology. She’s granted 48 hours away from the fold to make up her mind about their beliefs and so a sweet romance begins between the two as Zan embarks upon a spirited rebellion.

The heavy petting sessions are daringly mucky and absurd, there’s lots of armpit stroking, toe to nose rubbing and vomiting in mouths. Meanwhile in the house there’s the obvious anal probing but there’s also sex harnesses hanging from the ceiling. Many of the characters express themselves through dance, and whether it’s John playing with his third nipple to Kraftwerk-like tunes or Enn’s mum getting frisky in the kitchen there’s a beautiful and freeing vitality to these scenes.

When Fanning takes to the stage to express Zan’s frustrations the film is lifted to exhilarating heights, likewise when Nicole Kidman is acting out as leader of the pack, Queen Boadicea.

There’s a Galaxy Quest vibe to the Aliens which is endearing at first, but the humour in their group scenes starts to grate and you’re left feeling like you’re watching a bad episode of Doctor Who. There’s not a hint of nuance in their narrative about fighting conformity to bring about change and that proves to be a major problem throughout.

How To Talk To Girls At Parties was seen and reviewed at the Cannes Film Festival 2017.