How to Talk to Girls at Parties (2 stars)

How to Talk to Girls at Parties

Nicole Kidman and Elle Fanning feature in this messy adaptation of a Neil Gaiman short story

Following the success of American Gods, British author Neil Gaiman must be satisfied that his work is finally making it to the screen with the requisite aplomb (a promising mini-series based on Good Omens, his collaboration with Terry Pratchett, is also on the way). So it's something of a shame that John Cameron Mitchell's messy adaptation of Gaiman's 2006 short story How to Talk to Girls at Parties rather blots his copybook.

Set in 1977, Alex Sharp – who made his breakthrough on stage in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – plays Enn, a teenager living in not-so-exotic Croydon. With the punk scene alive and well, Enn and his mates take in a gig (where they discover Nicole Kidman's fashion high priestess Queen Boadicea sneering away) before finding their way to an after-party. Enn meets Zan (Elle Fanning) and immediately falls head over heels.

Trouble is, this gathering – full of people in latex S&M gear, Ruth Wilson included – is populated by aliens, including Zan. Gaiman's story stops around this point, and the screenplay by Mitchell and Philippa Goslett takes over: Zan is allowed 48 hours to spend with Enn, as she looks to uncover more about this strange planet she's landed on. With her ethereal qualities fine-tuned, Fanning makes for an excellent extraterrestrial.

Mitchell – an actor who began his directorial career with 2001's transgender punk tale Hedwig and the Angry Inch – clearly loves the era and evocatively brings to life late-70s Britain (with the help of production designer Helen Scott, a regular for Andrea Arnold and Clio Barnard). Unfortunately, the final act lets the film down drastically, as this culture-clash romance misplaces its mojo. It was clearly a lot more fun to make than it is to watch.

General release from Fri 11 May.

How to Talk to Girls at Parties

  • 2 stars
  • 2017
  • UK / US
  • 1h 42min
  • Directed by: John Cameron Mitchell
  • Cast: Nicole Kidman, Elle Fanning, Stephen Campbell Moore

In 1977 London, Enn (Sharp) meets Zan (Fanning) and falls for her not knowing that she’s really an alien. Messy adaptation of a Neil Gaiman story which is rich in period detail but stumbles dramatically, especially in its final act; more fun to make than to watch, perhaps.