The Movie Waffler New to VOD - HOW TO HAVE SEX | The Movie Waffler


Desperate to lose her virginity, a teenage girl joins her friends on a raucous holiday.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Molly Manning Walker

Starring: Mia McKenna-Bruce, Lara Peake, Samuel Bottomley, Shaun Thomas, Enva Lewis, Laura Ambler

How to Have Sex poster

Just as tens of thousands of American teens descend on the Mexican resort of Cancun every Spring Break, upon finishing school similar numbers of British and Irish kids head to various tacky destinations in the Mediterranean for a week or so of debauchery. It's a ritual, one last blowout before heading to college or starting a soul-crushing job or facing the dole queue.

The thing about rituals though is that they're not always undertaken voluntarily. Given the option, few kids would probably bother with their first communion or confirmation, but they give in to pressure from their parents. Once kids hit their teens they start to question their elders while doing everything their peers expect of them. How many of those teens who head to Spain or Greece actually want to spend a week listening to the sort of awful Eurodance music that has cursed the clubbing scene since the '90s? How many want to spend their time in the company of thousands of drunken plonkers puking off balconies and into penis-shaped swimming pools? How many are ready to give in to the pressure of losing their virginity in such a setting?

How to Have Sex review

Like Charlotte Regan's Aftersun, in which a possibly suicidal father tries to keep it together while on holiday with his daughter, writer/director Molly Manning Walker's debut How to Have Sex similarly explores the horrors of enduring forced fun. Its young protagonist isn't suicidal, but she's as out of place in the raucous Greek coastal town of Malia as Aftersun's protagonist was at that film's Turkish resort.

17-year-old Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce) lands in Malia with her friends Skye (Lara Peake) and Em (Enva Lewis). The trio keep telling each other they love one another but we suspect their friendship is coming to an end. Tara sticks out from her companions in several ways. A virgin, she lacks their sexual experience, but Skye and Em seem worldly in other ways. There's a subtle class difference distinguishable by their accents: the working class Tara seems to make a conscious effort to speak "proper" while her more middle class buddies affect an unconvincing street patois, with all three ending up in an odd middle ground that might have viewers wishing for subtitles at points. Tara is constantly fending off phone calls from her mum, while her friends seem free of such a burden. The girls are expecting news of their GCSE results in the coming days, and while Skye and Em are confident of doing well enough to nail their desired college places, Tara suspects, along with the audience, that her results won’t be so positive.

How to Have Sex review

After a first night of drunken debauchery, the three girls are befriended by their hotel neighbours: the affable Badger (Shaun Thomas), handsome scuzzball Paddy (Samuel Bottomley) and lesbian Paige (Laura Ambler). Initially, there's a mutual attraction between Badger and Tara, but the former doesn't move things quickly enough for the latter, who is so desperate to lose her virginity it seems she'll settle for anyone. That anyone is the opportunistic Paddy, who takes a wasted Tara to the beach and rids her of her perceived burden. The act is technically consensual. Paddy asks if she's ready and Tara replies in the affirmative, but everything about her body language, which Paddy willfully ignores, suggests otherwise. Immediately rejected by Paddy in the aftermath of their coupling, Tara retreats into alcohol and dancing, neither of which seem to bring her much genuine joy. And then her exam results arrive…

For some young people it can feel as though youth is forced upon them. Personally, I loved being a kid but hated my teen years, a period when you're expected to give up everything you enjoyed as a child but aren't yet allowed reap the benefits of adulthood, not to mention the horrors of school and constantly being told you're doomed to amount to nothing (spoiler: I did amount to nothing, but in the words of Gershwin, nothing's plenty for me). The revelatory McKenna-Bruce plays Tara as though she's similarly uncomfortable with being a teenager and the expectations that come with it. Towered over by her statuesque-in-comparison friends and practically everyone else, Tara is always the smallest person in the room, always in danger of being tread on, physically or metaphorically. It's telling that the one time she seems to genuinely relax and have fun is when she falls in with a twentysomething Scottish reveller who briefly treats her as though Tara were her kid sister. For a few hours she finds the sort of sisterhood she likely never really felt in the company of Skye and Em.

How to Have Sex review

Things take a dark turn in the final act, but by that point Tara's spirit is so broken it's an indignity she's resigned herself to. The few rare negative reviews of Manning Walker's film have complained that the film doesn't explicitly address what happens to Tara late on, but that's a take that completely misses the point of the film. There's so much confusion in Tara's mind around what happens to her that she doesn't know how to bring it up with her friends or if they'd even react with sympathy. "You should have said something," Em tells Tara, but you get the impression Em is glad Tara kept quiet so as not to disrupt the "best holiday ever." As the girls board a plane back to England they might be headed for the same country, but it seems they're now on very different paths. Like so many young working class men and women, Tara is set to be left behind.

How to Have Sex is on UK/ROI VOD now.

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