Imagine if Nicolas Winding Refn engineered the aesthetics of what an alien would have looked like if they invaded the seventies punk scene. In all honesty, this probably does oversell the film, but I am legitimately flabbergasted that How to Talk to Girls at Parties is a movie that actually exists. John Cameron Mitchell deludes the perception that this is just going to be another film that falls within the endless onslaught of tropes that the YA plague has to offer. Implementing elaborate antiestablishment idealisms of the era, he has a concrete understanding not only of the past but also for the spirit of his space. There is certainly a level of artificial cleanliness within the film that would feel out of place otherwise, but Mitchell realizes that this isn’t an integral period piece. Its supplementary sci-fi embellishments allow for him to play around with the era, but without ever forgetting the attitude that defined this generation.
How to Talk to Girls at Parties‘s defining sci-fi element allows for him as a director to delve into an abstraction from culture in such a refreshing way. Following Zan, who is played to perfection by Elle Fanning, as she embarks on a journey of self-discovery after meeting Enn (Alex Sharp) at a party one night. Alternating back and forth between the couple’s adventures and her alien home base on the cusp of a unified “feeding,” dramatic irony is employed to paint a clear sense of the intentions of this extraterrestrial lifeforce. Through the juxtaposition of narratives, it begins to become evident that she’s swept away by the newfound liberation of the British punk scene. Mitchell tries to instill an undercurrent of self-doubt upon the viewer regarding her true intentions throughout, but the chemistry between Fanning and Sharp is far too lively ever to suspect any other outcome.
It feels like an affront to the film to say that there’s a single scene that knocks everything else away, but the moment when the couple goes on stage for the first time together is wholly comparable to the magnitude of the superimposition sequence in Malgré la nuit. It’s this cosmic connection of beauty spurred together through a vibrant bombardment of color. Lasting shorter than a DMT trip, but containing all of the emotional revelations for these two characters that have been cosmically struck together to create something of immense importance. There’s nothing in a film this year that casts out the sheer joy that How to Talk to Girls at Parties manages to accomplish in a few brief minutes.