On a very off chance, two or three years ago, I happened to come across a photo online that was taken of Nicole Kidman on the set of a new film. The name of the film? How to Talk to Girls at Parties. I was taken aback. Wait, what? Like that little story by Neil Gaiman that nobody’s really heard of? Curious, I looked into it, and proceeded to keep tabs on it. After a couple years passed, I figured, something must have happened, they never finished it, or they finished it but couldn’t get it distributed, or something. I was disappointed.
But earlier this year, a trailer for the film popped up, reigniting my excitement. Not only was this a take on a story from my favorite Gaiman collection (Fragile Things), but they’d merged it with the 1977 punk scene, a subject close to my heart. The trailer didn’t completely sell me on it, I was very skeptical. How do you stretch out an 18-page story and make a feature length film out of it? Did they just make up a bunch of nonsense to fill in the run time?
How to Talk to Girls at Parties is a charming movie that, while it massively embellishes on a very short story, stays true to the spirit of Gaiman’s works: Fairy tales for grown-ups, that can still capture wonder and imagination no matter what your age or walk of life. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a lot of fun, and fits in very well with Gaiman’s world. I would even put it above Stardust (2007), which I thought was too exaggerated, too Hollywood, and didn’t do the source material’s endearing whimsical nature justice. How to Talk to Girls is an indie film through and through, and the creative enthusiasm of the team behind it shows. This isn’t a movie made to make money, to feed to the masses in convenient servings of banality; it is something either you like or you don’t, and it is unapologetic about its personality.
The plot goes as such: Enn, a teenage punk in 1977 Croydon, goes to the wrong party, and ends up meeting some very strange girls, including Zan, an outsider. She, like Enn, is frustrated with the status quo and restrictions of her society, and wishes to break outside of it. He takes her to explore the world of punk rock, in which she promptly flourishes. However, the true nature behind Zan, her people, and her purpose, slowly comes to light, until Enn realizes he and his friends must take action or risk losing her forever.
The film could certainly be accused of being built around the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype, but I would argue that Zan shows too much agency, and that the story is truly about her journey to self-realization, while Enn is more there as an aid and witness to her development, and learns about himself along the way. At first blush, Enn does appear to be the protagonist, and he does have his own arc, of course, but Zan is the real hero of the story, who grows beyond her limitations into something greater. It’s a nice change of pace from so many films of this kind, that are about an awkward boy gaining confidence through his supportive girlfriend to achieve his dreams. This movie does service to all of its characters, Zan and Enn in particular, of course. They both have times to shine, arcs to fulfill, and greater things to become.
That isn’t to say the film doesn’t have its low points. It is very obviously the victim of poor editing, as Nicole Kidman’s Bodicea character is under-developed, with scenes fleshing her out further seemingly missing, causing some of the dialogue between her and protagonist Enn make little sense. The special effects are also spotty, details of Zan’s collective are somewhat confusing, and some concepts are undercooked. There is a vaguely environmental theme that crops up from time to time, but it is inconsistent and never fully realized.
One thing I’m not sure if I should criticize or not is Vic’s arc. Vic attends the party with Enn at the beginning, and has an experience he doesn’t quite understand. Throughout the film, we see moments of discomfort from him, which, eventually, he is required to face up to. However, exactly what that is that he is facing is unclear. I could extrapolate plenty of answers, and just because something requires you to think and come to your own conclusions doesn’t make it bad, but I feel like the movie might have benefited from clarifying this particular plot point.
Overall, How to Talk to Girls at Parties is not a perfect film, but it does its source material justice and is an enjoyable ride, and in this age of multi-million dollar blockbuster trash heaps, supporting indie films is important. While the special effects are low-budget, it remains visually striking, from the set design, to the costumes, and the group performances with the punks and Zan’s people. While the very basic concept behind the story is one of the oldest tropes — forbidden love between two teenagers — it manages to give it a fresh twist and subvert your expectations.
The movie is available for free with an Amazon Prime subscription, and you can stream it on YouTube and Google Play.
If you like my content and would like to support, consider making a donation on ko-fi.