Short stories tend to make better source material for motion picture adaptation than novels simply because their general breadth is closer to the form of cinema than lengthier material. But on occasion, a short story can be brought to the screen with too much excess fat, taking a brisk tale and letting it drag for all to see. This can be said of How to Talk to Girls at Parties, the Neil Gaiman story brought to life by writer/director John Cameron Mitchell that feels as long as its title.

The film stars Alex Sharp as Enn, a young English punk in late ‘70s Croydon who falls for a girl from outer space. Elle Fanning portrays Zan, the alien in question, with a broad, slapstick-y brand of quirk, which largely feels believable. Were this a more tightly plotted romance focusing solely on their fish-out-of-water courtship, their chemistry might be enough to fuel a full feature. But Mitchell, alongside co-writer Philippa Goslett, expands the scope of Gaiman’s story exponentially, at times for the better, but often for the worse.

The thrust of Gaiman’s short story takes place early in the film, when Enn and his punk friends get lost after a concert and head to the wrong house for the after party, mingling with a traveling group of humanoid-presenting extraterrestrials. It’s exactly the twee blending of slice-of-life to sci-fi/fantasy he’s made a lucrative career penning and, tonally, it isn’t far off from the tragicomic genre deconstruction of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s The World’s End.

But the filmed adaptation expands upon the source material, weaving a more fleshed-out mythology of the various alien races Enn and his friends encounter. By creating a more outsized framework for what felt like a chance encounter in the prose, the film becomes more like a kooky, ‘90s-set comedy, more high-concept genre experimentation than effortless fiction. The execution, however, is far more in line with some of Mitchell’s more unhinged works, crackling with a free-spirited sexual energy that sets it apart from Gaiman’s more staid approach.

When the film is at its best, it’s transposing the battle of the sexes to an interspecies erotica metaphor that functions well for comedy and nuanced observation, especially when one of Enn’s friends has an encounter with one of the more dominating alien races that widens his toxically masculine views on intimacy. It’s when the film aims more broadly, with blunt force commentary on punk music culture and casual political humor, that it falters, especially as the labyrinthine mythology of the aliens requires a third act that feels more like a bad Doctor Who episode than anything else.

How to Talk to Girls at Parties is a fun enough film, with a few moments of inspiration coupled with some solid performances (particularly an exciting supporting turn from Nicole Kidman as a punk tastemaker), but its best elements are the ones wholesale ripped from the source material and the curious outliers Mitchell and Goslett added to the tapestry. It’s just unfortunate that much of the film exists in the nebulous chasms between those dueling visions, rarely gelling into a more cohesive whole.

  • Followed

    A horror film that doesn’t go nearly far enough. …
  • Bully. Coward. Victim: The Story of Roy Cohn

    It’s easy to watch the film and hate Cohn even more than history books might have led you …
  • Hammer

    A tense and economical thriller the indie marketplace could sure use more of. …
  • Welcome to Chechnya

    Concentrates on the precarious, threatened lives of the survivors and the heroic acts of t…
  • Followed

    A horror film that doesn’t go nearly far enough. …
  • Skyman

    The writer and co-director of The Blair Witch Project, has returned to the genre he helped…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Followed

A horror film that doesn’t go nearly far enough. …