How to Have Sex is definitely not the how-to guide that its title suggests – instead it’s a haunting coming of age story that is all too familiar for many women.
Directed by Molly Manning Walker, How to Have Sex premiered at Cannes and won Un Certain Regard, and went on to tour more festivals across New Zealand, Australia and Canada, all to high acclaim. The story traces the dream party holiday of three 16 year old girls, still waiting for their college entry results, who head to the Greek resort town of Malia to have not only the time of their lives, but more importantly – lots of sex.
We begin with Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce), Skye (Lara Peake) and Em (Enva Lewis) touching down in Greece, dipping in to the shimmering ocean as dawn breaks, and shrieking in excitement at every facet of their new-found (yet temporary) freedom. Despite being the smallest, Tara swiftly talks their way into an upgraded room, overlooking the all important (and extremely phallic) party pool.
As the girls primp, plan and prep for their first night on the town, it becomes apparent that although confident, our protagonist Tara is seemingly deficient in one area – she is still a virgin. Despite dancing the night away in the throbbing clubs of the island, and crashing home in the wee hours of the morning in a cheesy-chip fuelled haze, the girls decide that to fill their sexual quota they will have to look beyond the borders of their friendship triangle.
Cue Tara’s influence once again. While reading for round two, she catches the eye of the comedic Badger, their balcony neighbour. Combined with Paddy and Paige, their two parties blend together into one band of troubadours – spinning out of control through the night in a bacchanalian swirl of alcohol, drugs and techno. Naive and baby-faced, Tara swims through the night’s festivities, seeking sorely to enjoy herself, while the shadow of her virginity looms ever higher.
With skillful use of light and sound, Walker paints a vivid picture of the harsh realities many young men and women face when they dip a toe into party life. The decadent parties become crude and vulgar, as people give in to their base instincts, fuelled by an excess of alcohol and lust. In these moments, Walker hones in on just Tara – isolating her with a short depth of field and fading away the pulsating music, in a way that highlights the way she is retreating within herself to escape the violation she feels.
Though we are denied a neat ending, or even the satisfaction of Tara confronting her abuser – we are given a gritty and candid view into a world that is often glamorised by so many. It feels like a documentary, but with McKenna-Bruce’s poignant and delicate performance we are drawn in and watch her youth and innocence being ripped away in real time. Walker leaves us wondering – will Tara emerge from the wreckage? (7/10)