“They’re just girls,” said Vic. “They don’t come from another planet.” That’s the key line of Neil Gaiman’s How to Talk to Girls at Parties, a short story nominated for a Hugo in 2007 and available in full to read on his website. The story follows two 15-year-old boys who inadvertently crash the wrong party in 1970s South London and meet a group of women who aren’t exactly human. It seems grounded at first, but it rapidly takes off into Gaiman’s familiar mix of poetry and otherworldly fantasy. At heart, though, it’s about the intimidation factor of being a teenage boy who’s interested in sex, but still sees girls as some sort of inscrutable alien species, operating in a completely different world.
The first trailer for the film adaptation of How to Talk to Girls at Parties has just arrived, and it plays up the alienation. But the story is clearly much more involved, and the protagonist, Enn (Alex Sharp) has a lot more agency and personality than his short-story counterpart. Elle Fanning stars as Zan, the girl he meets at an eerie party, and Nicole Kidman plays Queen Boadicea, the leader of Zan’s faction. The punk-music elements in the short story are just set dressing, a few paragraphs about the background music. But co-writer and director John Cameron Mitchell has clearly turned them into an ethos and an organizing principle that suffuses every aspect of the design and apparently the story. As he did with his film Hedwig and the Angry Inch, he’s created something that’s as much about a music scene and what it means to its fandom as it is about the characters or the story.
A lot of How to Talk to Girls at Parties looks like a standard young adult story with a supernatural bent: star-crossed lovers, a ticking clock, a need to stand up and defy adult authority in the name of rebellion and young infatuation. But in Mitchell’s hands, it also looks like a visually bonkers wild ride. The film is set for release in America on May 18th, 2018, a week after its British premiere.