How to Talk to Girls at Parties
by Hope Madden
Oh, the fish out of water tale. What if X found itself in Y: a mermaid in New York City, an American werewolf in London, an alien in Croyden? What hijinks could arise!
Elle Fanning is that alien, Zan, and Croyden is a suburb of London that was, in 1977, thrashing about to the strains of the burgeoning and decaying punk rock scene.
When Enn (Alex Sharp) and his fanzine-writing mates stumble into an alien house party, believing it to be a punk show after party, Zan abandons the strict duties of her visit to experience life on Earth.
Who better to bring Neil Gaiman’s short story to the big screen than Hedwig himself, John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Shortbus, Rabbit Hole)? Directing, as well as co-writing the adaptation with Philippa Goslett, Mitchell strives to complete Gaiman’s 18 pages with punk attitude, coming of age angst, romance, political asides and style.
He’s only marginally successful on any of those counts.
Punk rock seems a perfect vehicle for the central themes of conformity versus individuality. What the film needs is a little punk rock. Instead, it offers knowing lip service (and next to no music) in service of an all-too-earnest love story.
The brightest light glimmers from Nicole Kidman as grand master on the scene, Queen Boadicea. Patroness of the dingiest club, bondage artist and the dying spirit of an era not meant to age well, she relishes every ridiculous line and delivers perhaps the film’s only truly honest dialogue.
Fanning captivates, as is her way. All the joy, curiosity and misunderstanding she can muster create a character who becomes far more than simply the first hot girl to pay attention to Enn.
Sharp performs solidly as the wallflower everyman, although that is part of the problem. Scribblings, safety pins and zines aside, Enn is just a middle-of-the-road sweetheart. The film is not about the outsider at all, though it pretends to be.
It pretends a lot of things, sometimes very colorfully and often entertainingly, but without a raucous atonal tune to push it forward and with a fairly lukewarm crisis to overcome, it fails entirely at embodying the punk rock themes it proposes.
Oh my God, this movie is a poseur.
What would Hedwig think?