Neil Gaiman’s short story about a young punk who meets an interdimensional alien in 1970s Croydon would seem to be perfect fodder for director John Cameron Mitchell, whose 2001 queer cult musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch lovingly told an outsider’s story through the technicolour lens of an alternative music scene.
This adaptation soon sheds its punk credentials however, and goes all in on heady science-fiction romance – think Sing Street by way of Splash. It’s a strange and poetic film in which punk-next-door Enn (Alex Sharp) falls for inscrutable alien runaway Zan (Elle Fanning), who is a member of a travelling colony of impossibly beautiful humanoid spacefolk.
When thumping trance music lures Enn and his friends into the touring aliens’ sexy suburban houseparty, they discover what appears to be a cross between a Eurotrash rehearsal and a performance by the Blue Man Group. The aliens are a colourful mix of PVC-clad fetishists, mute contortionists and a screeching acappella group, and together the tribes are governed by an authority of their elders.
It’s in Zan’s rebelling against her cultish alien prefects that the punk vibes are at their most vibey, but elsewhere the plot runs too thin, and the half-hearted homage to the punk scene starts to feel lukewarm. Fans of Hedwig will appreciate the trippy animated musical sequence, but How To Talk To Girls At Parties doesn’t come close to the satisfying emotional crescendo seen in Mitchell’s earlier films.
Eminently likeable leads carry things along, but a lack of focus, budget and an almost incomprehensible last act makes How To Talk To Girls feel disjointed and surreal. And not in a fun way.