Cannes Breakout How to Have Sex Is a Sobering Drama About Consent

Island. It’s a longform hang of a dating competition show, sun-baked and silly. The regional accents are thick and varied, the wardrobe a dizzying array of club wear dotted with peekaboo cutouts, crisscrossed by lacing. In the evenings, everyone dresses for a big night out, but they stay stuck out on the same old terrace where they’ve just spent all afternoon lounging like house cats. Things never get wild, as production limits each cast member to two drinks per night.

But surely, out in the real world, these tanned and teeth-whitened Brits would rage. Molly Manning Walker’s film How to Have Sex, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on Friday, offers us a fictional glimpse of just such a scenario, albeit with slightly younger, more naive people at the center. The film follows three teenage friends blowing off post-A Levels steam in some dingy holiday town in Crete, all determined to drink and hook up as much as much as humanly possible (and maybe past that). Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce) is the firecracker of the group, loud and raucous but still discernibly a kid. Skye (Lara Peake) is a bit faster than the other two, though there’s a sadness—or something like it—in her eyes. Em (Enva Lewis) is the ambitious, more studious of the three; she likely aced her exams and will head off to a good college. She’s also Black and queer, which perhaps puts her at a slight distance from her friends. (A possibility mostly unexplored in the film.)

At the beginning of the trip, we are shown the expected messy, fumbling bacchanal: shots and karaoke, puke and sidewalk pop-a-squats. Manning Walker films these rambling scenes with freewheeling energy, warm and amiable but also maybe a little bit horrified. These kids are going hard, and it’s alarming to watch as a concerned adult stranger in the audience. I don’t think the film is shaming the girls, nor is it giving their elders stern warnings about what the youth of today is up to. The film operates with an objective frankness, and with keen knowledge of the particular rhythms and cadences of these EasyJet vacations. (Manning Walker is all of 29, so maybe these hedonist days aren’t too far behind her.)

How to Have Sex is an observant social study, deftly mapping little riffs in its core friendship—slights and envies, mostly—and keeping each character away from the trap of easy trope. Tara emerges as the lead of the film when she meets some boys staying in the hotel room next door, initially attracted to rough-hewn, platinum-dyed Badger (Shaun Thomas) and mildly amused by the antics of his goof-off mate, Paddy (Samuel Bottomley). (He’s “well jokes,” in these kids’ parlance.) It seems some Cretan romance is finally in the offing, though the boys are a bit older, more eager than Tara seems ready for.

Eventually the grim irony of the film’s title reveals itself. How to Have Sex is not a splashy romp through the madness and horninness of adolescence, but a somber film about Tara’s experience with one of the boys in which a gray area quickly turns black. Manning Walker handles these developments with a steady compassion that precludes melodrama. Each shift in Tara’s circumstance, in her mood and her senses of self and safety, is credibly introduced—often manifesting only as a change of expression on Tara’s face, a sudden deadness in her voice.

McKenna-Bruce precisely calibrates Tara’s descent into trauma, both her private pain and her attempts at outward, nothing’s-wrong sunniness. What’s happened to Tara is an all too common occurrence in the real world, but Manning Walker is careful not to flatten the movie into a broad issues drama. She keeps things granular, focused on Tara trying to get through her remaining days of vacation amidst a dawning, horrible new understanding of the world. Were How to Have Sex in the festival’s main competition and I were on the jury, McKenna-Bruce would have my best actress vote; it’s a stunning performance, subtle and complicated.

Manning Walker is a sensitive steward of Tara’s story, knowing just when to pull back and when to get close. How to Have Sex is a more than promising debut feature, though it does make a few freshman stumbles toward the end. The film is miles away from the leering, หนังเอ็กแตกใน synthetic depravity of Spring Breakers, and no scolding is cast Tara’s way—nor toward real girls who may be gearing up for their own first trips with friends. The film is merely a bitter assessment of how things too often go, the many instances when consent is assumed and abused. If there is an urgent, instructive message in the film, it might be pointed at the young men in the audience. How to Have Sex is a vivid and heartbreaking depiction of what is caused by the willful, dehumanizing disregard of women. May its lesson be taken to heart by those who need to hear it most.

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