23 Oct 23
Sun, sea and the kind of serious disappointment only a promised "holiday of a lifetime" can give you – it's all on the horizon for Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce) during her post-GCSEs blowout with her best two girlfriends, her ride-or-die mates, in Molly Manning Walker's dynamic, frank and hugely entertaining debut feature How To Have Sex.
Many feature debuts from British female filmmakers have gone the distance in the last few years: Rose Glass's Saint Maud, Prano Bailey-Bond's Censor, Georgia Oakley's Blue Jean, Charlotte Regan's Scrapper and, of course, Charlotte Wells' Oscar- nominated Aftersun.
Walker, an impressive cinematographer (Scrapper) turns her eye to the specificity of the sticky, sweaty strip holiday British teenagers force themselves to go on – cheap, messy, euphoric and exhausting in equal measure.
Walker walks the line brilliantly, following Tara (a major arrival for the compelling and often devastating McKenna-Bruce) as she enjoys the holiday she's always waited for while stubbornly trying to lose her virginity and get over her failed exams. Her best friends have already had sex and they've got big plans for next year too.
With its neon colour palette and heightened emotions, the film could be discussed in the same breath as Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers, but look closer and there's more of the thoughtful spirit of Lynne Ramsay's Morvern Callar, or even the #MeToo drama The Assistant, from Australian filmmaker Kitty Green. In short, this is far, far away from the Brits abroad of The Inbetweeners.
It comes from a personal place for Walker, who is determined to broaden the conversation around sexual pleasure, consent, trust, freedom and shame, specifically in young women placing so much importance on their first time. Many stories touching on such subjects veer into sensationalist and upsetting terrority but Walker is too smart and sensitive to fall into that trap.
The film has already stolen hearts and minds worldwide. At the world premiere at this year's Cannes Film Festival Walker and her team received a standing ovation and eventually won the Un Certain Regard prize. This underlines the fact that although How To Have Sex follows three teenage girls on their rite-of-passage holiday, it speaks to all generations: teenagers living through it but also those who still hold onto those memories, be it weeks or decades later, and remember just how important all those nascent experiences feel.
Walker brings this to life with electric sound and vision, celebrating the timeless cheesiness of these destination nightclubs (Dizzee Rascal fans, rejoice) and the instant friendships and unlikely meetings that come to shape who you are forever. Whether that's at a 4am pool party or in bed with somebody you thought you really knew, How To Have Sex understands them all.
And for the endless Brits who have been on that exact holiday but struggled to bottle the complex but beautiful feelings until now, a major new talent is here to show you a good time, in every sense of the word. Ella Kemp
Pick up a copy of Picturehouse Recommends at a Picturehouse Cinema near you, or become a Member.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of In This World, we sat down with the director to discuss how the film's radical approach brought an often-distant issue down to an audience’s eye level.
We've been wishing on a star, and our dream has come true. The next Disney classic is a century in the making.
The Souvenir's Joanna Hogg returns with an atmospheric ghost story, starring the formidable Tilda Swinton at the peak of her powers.
Feast your eyes on a fantastic festive lineup at Picturehouse!
Ridley Scott’s epic retelling of the rise and fall of the iconic French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte reunites the director with Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix.