By Gabrielle Marceau
Three British teens—Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce) and her two besties—touch down in Greece for a holiday. After swimming in the ocean, they decide they want fries, and the resort town, designed to cater to British tourists, provides. Fries are the only sustenance they’ll get on the trip, aside from drugs and buckets of alcohol. Molly Manning Walker’s debut film, How to Have Sex, is an unvarnished chronicle of their three-day bender, complete with vomit, smeared eyeliner, and bad decisions. In the first act, the girl’s conspiratorial giddiness feels forced; for three best mates, it appears like they just met (and as actors, of course, they probably just did). But Tara does have real chemistry with someone, a tattooed bruv in the neighbouring suite named Badger (Shaun Thomas), although Skye (Lara Peake)—who tells the girls what cheap dresses to wear, how to do their makeup, and who to hook up with—convinces her to go for his friend, Paddy (Samuel Bottomley). Drunk and overwhelmed one night, Tara gives in to Paddy’s advances with a questionable “yeah”, and the experience leaves her scarred and fragile, moving through the rest of the trip in a daze.
Learning to have sex means some measure of disillusionment and confusion, without any party necessarily being wrong or wronged. But Manning Walker has her eye on something more simplistic, and the film’s moral system is closer to teen comedies (the girl goes for the asshole instead of the sweetie because of the jealous mean girl) than the messiness of real life. That the guy she ultimately sleeps with is not simply the bad call, but a truly bad man feels like the film is missing the point. (And it’s too bad because McKenna-Bruce is bringing quite a bit to the table with her performance as the brash then shattered Tara.) The film works better in the details—like the girl’s skimpy fast fashion dresses paired with chunky white sneakers—and the ambience—the grimy hotel and garbage-strewn streets in the grey, unforgiving morning light.