How to Have Sex is a sun and alcohol-soaked tale of three teenage girls on a post GCSE bender in Crete, with the singular mission of getting laid. As such, it shares a familiar aim of films like American Pie, and The 40-Year Old Virgin, but where this directorial debut from Molly Manning Walker departs is the seriousness with which she examines the moral issues at stake, and the fidelity she brings to her characters.
Tara (Mia KcKenna Bruce), Em (Enva Lewis) and Skye (Lara Peake) are smart and confident teenagers let loose for a week. They prove their mettle early on by wrangling a room upgrade at their resort, and putting down a chump who dares to chat them up. Underneath the bravado though, they are still children. They play football, eat cheesy chips, mess around, and at crucial moments, are faced with the impossibility of putting terrible events into words.
The film is a super-realistic depiction of their earnest quest to have sex, free from the constraints of home. The director also provides vivid material that would be suitable for a year 11 PSHE lesson on sexual consent.
The mood at the start of the film is wholesome and playful. The genre demands of a disaster movie are present too, and for the first third of the film you are waiting for the bad thing to happen. Stakes are raised when one character reveals she is still a virgin. It is hopefully not a spoiler to say that bad things do happen. The skill of the director is that she takes us right there in forensic detail when they do.
This is a technically accomplished piece of film making – moods are communicated clearly through shaky cameras, high energy music from dubstep star Jakwob, the claustrophobic setting of the resort, and the crowded hedonism of the night club scene. Mia McKenna Bruce (Tee Taylor, in Tracey Beaker Returns) gives an outstanding big screen performance as Tara. She demonstrates a great range of feeling from elation to mute trauma. I also liked Shaun Thomas (Gerry Roberts, in Emmerdale) as ‘sexy clown’ Badger. His character is warm, respectful, yet also conflicted over his allegiances.
Much of the action is rinsed through with torrents of alcohol, and if you are a parent you may start to wish these girls a good night’s sleep and some green vegetables.
How to Have Sex is a thoughtful and sympathetic film from a talented team of millennial actors and crew about what really goes on in the negotiations around sex – where it occasionally goes right, and where it can go very wrong. For one of the characters, the ending of the film feels really just the beginning of her problems. It was a wise decision to keep the BBFC classification to 15. This means the post-GCSE pupils it depicts can watch along and engage with the issues shown. A must-see for teenagers, their parents, and anyone in between who is troubled by the power imbalances that persist between the genders six years after #metoo.
Bad Sex Writing Workshop with Laura Horton
Following the matinee screening of How to Have Sex on Saturday 18th November, Plymouth playwright Laura Horton led a special “Bad Sex” writing workshop. Taking inspiration from the idea that creativity flourishes when offered permission not to be perfect, Laura led us on a series of prompts to produce short fictional passages of deliberately bad erotica. Mine involved a runny fried egg and a knee-trembler under a Formica café table! The workshop was funny and liberating.
Laura, the former Plymouth Laureate of Words, runs a Bad Sex Writing podcast, and has written for Vogue magazine about the cathartic effects of writing humorously about sex. In her article she says, “Ultimately, this sort of camaraderie makes sex less intimating – and makes us all feel less alone.”
Plymouth Arts Cinema would like to thank Laura for a wonderful and playful afternoon.
Find out more about Bad Sex Writing on Instagram @badsexwriting
How To Have Sex is screening at Plymouth Arts Cinema from Friday 17 – Thursday 23 November.
Reviewed by James Banyard