Jamie Skinner reviews Molly Manning Walker's How to Have Sex: Sex, drink and partying are on the menu for three best friends on a foreign holiday, however whilst getting to know the people next door the shine is quickly worn off for Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce).
Cert - 15, Run-time - 1 hour 31 minutes, Director - Molly Manning Walker
How To Have Sex is a film of false sense and securities. The opening ten minutes are a prime example. As best friends Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce), Skye (Lara Peake) and Em (Enva Lewis) literally dive straight into their foreign holiday celebrating the end of their exams (if they don’t have to retake them). From the airport they leap into the sea with screams of “best holiday ever!” As they loudly confirmed their simple agenda; sex, drink and partying, I worried that for 90 minutes I was going to be annoyed by the central figures.
Yet, as we focus on Tara things begin to change within writer-director Molly Manning Walker’s feature debut. Whilst her friends agree that whoever has the most sex can have the main bedroom, and a large bottle of alcohol, she’s seeking her first time. Knocked down by an announcer at a beer drinking competition - “no boy’s ever going to be happy with you” - she begins to fall in, alongside Skye and Em, with the fellow tourists in the room next door.
Badger (Shaun Thomas), Paddy (Samuel Bottomley) and Paige (Laura Ambler) may be a couple of years older, but they largely have the same aims for their time away, gradually forming something of a double unit. Overtime we see the developments, or perhaps lack of them, in the relationship between Tara and the increasingly obnoxious Paddy - the source of the key tonal shifts. Particularly when he’s on screen a sense of nervousness eases its way in, with the final stages dropping into pure tension.
McKenna-Bruce captures this with a performance which grows quieter and quieter. More uncertain and hesitant, capturing the subtleties of Manning-Walker’s screenplay. Asking questions along the way, with the most key arriving at the very end. Is there resolution? Can there be any? Like Tara after what she goes through against the backdrop of a cathartic holiday we’re faintly hoping yet doubtful.
A potent drama unfolds with plenty to linger in the mind afterwards. Breaks are provided, but only to intensify the feelings of going back to the hotel. After a particularly concerning night at the clubs Tara finds herself welcomed in a blanket of warmth and comfort by a group of strangers - led by Eilidh Loan’s Fi - as she goes back the worry and tension settle in again, particularly with Paddy crossing multiple boundaries.
What keeps the naturalism throughout is the gradual decrease in moments of humour. As they die down the tonal shifts are allowed to have more effect, even when sudden. As McKenna-Bruce and Manning Walker subtly deliver the themes and emotions throughout; the final scene in particular - again, is there and can there be a proper resolution? What can she say to her friends and those around her, especially while everyone is in a holiday mindset? - leaves plenty to echo in the mind afterwards.
Jamie Skinner, four stars ****