How to Have Sex

How to Have Sex ★★★½

Reducing Molly Manning Walker’s directorial debut to a watered-down British version of Spring Breakers may feel appropriate at first, but to do so would be to undersell the director’s undeniable, if obvious, intent. Sure, the first 40-or-so minutes of How to Have Sex consist of one long, orgiastic display of boozed-up hormones and hedonism—and I guarantee that if this display were set in Miami rather than Malia, A24 would be foaming at the mouth for the distribution rights. But at a certain point, Walker dares to venture where Harmony Korine refuses to go: the partying subsides (or rather, numbs out)  and a point develops.

Not to disparage Korine’s style-over-substance mentality—Spring Breakers is undeniably a hell of a time, and How to Have Sex isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel and becoming 2001 by comparison—but Walker’s empty partying belies (albeit anything but subtly) a general anxiety towards its titular milestone. Everyone’s ready to party and get laid until the sobering reality of how many go about achieving that—particularly in a festive setting—comes to the fore and sends many busybodies back into their shells, or worse, pushes them too far beyond their comfort zones into the complete opposite. 

Much of this turmoil is depicted starkly by Mia McKenna-Bruce’s stone-cold face, as the young star-to-be exudes enthusiasm in ignorance and hesitance in taking that extra step. More to the point, How to Have Sex makes the point that going for that step before you’re ready isn’t even worth the constant anxiety bubbling just below the party facade, with  reluctant inhibition leading to dark corners inhabited by awful people blinded by their social climate to their own faults. McKenna-Bruce translates that quiet terror with pitch-perfect energy.

Molly Manning Walker’s message may not be new, but How to Have Sex still manages to be cautionary without being bereft of entertainment, all without losing sight of its raison-d’être.

2023 Ranked. 

Cannes 2023.

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