Film Film Reviews

How to Talk to Girls at Parties and April’s Daughter (Film Reviews)

ALIEN cults and a manipulative mother populated the screen on my second day at the BFI London Film Festival.

How to Talk to Girls at Parties – 2-star-rating

ALEX Sharp (To The Bone) plays Enn, an enthusiastic young Punk lover in 1970’s London. He runs a fanzine with his two friends as they attend parties and clumsily attempt to talk to women.

One night they stumble upon a house party and things start to get wacky – fast. They go inside to discover strange music, just as strange dancing and a host of people in brightly coloured latex clothing. This eclectic group – some stirring memories of the ‘hot alien chicks’ from Dude Where’s My Car (2000) – turn out to be alien and visiting London for a few days before indulging in a mysterious ritual.

Among the aliens is Zan (Elle Fanning), who is growing frustrated with her group and, to the dismay of her peers and superiors, decides to leave the party with Enn. Although she has little understanding of its meaning, Zan is intrigued by Enn’s passion for punk and wants to experience his way of living.

The following interactions between Zan and Enn’s home life provide the pinnacle moments of a largely underwhelming film. This includes Zan trying to imitate dance moves and having nonplussed conversation while on the toilet – she calmly explains she is excreting the pancakes she had just eaten for breakfast.

how-to-talk-to-girls-at-parties-1

Fanning’s performance – capturing an alien innocence and delivering Zen’s unwittingly matter-of-fact lines – is deserving of a better film. Much of Fanning’s charm is lost in a tiring final portion of the film, as the conflict between the punks and the aliens comes to a head. It all gets slightly emotionally confusing, perhaps because there is little invested in the film’s character beyond Zen.

Tellingly I mistook the film’s opening for a lengthy pre-film production logo. This is a film that misses the mark on many levels. Even fun appearances from Nicole Kidman – as a bitter Punk guru – and Matt Lucas – one of the aliens – are not enough to save it from cosmic disappointment.

April’s Daughter – 5 STARS

IS there a Mexican version of Jeremy Kyle or Jerry Springer?

If so, they would feel right at home trying to piece together the family desolation left in the wake of Michael Franco’s film April’s Daughter.

Told at Franco’s typically steady pace, the film follows young Valeria (Ana Valeria Becerril) as her mother April (Emma Suarez) unexpectedly turns up to help with her pregnancy.

But April does not have her daughter’s emotions at heart and later embarks on a devious plot to take Valeria’s child – and her boyfriend Mateo (Enrique Arrizon). Family betrayal of the highest order – Jeremy Kyle would love it, his ears twitching at the prospect of discussing this family’s dysfunctionality.

Starting with Valeria’s initial reluctance to contact her mother, Franco leaves a few crumbs to reveal April’s controlling nature. Notably her supervising of Clara’s weight-loss (her other daughter). She takes Clara to the doctor and orders her to take laxatives to cleanse her body of years of bad habits.

Along with this, there are even smaller seeds of jealousy and resentment planted. When April overhears Valeria’s and Mateo’s loud lovemaking – we witness this in the film’s opening as well –  she responds with embellished laughter. It is a laugh that becomes more sinister with hindsight.

Franco’s approach is measured, lingering and subtle. It feels like no coincidence that we regularly see April driving. She is always in control and looking to steer matters her way.  Mateo, a passive and easily manipulated beta figure, is tellingly given a moped and motherly told not to drive too fast – he is too childish to be trusted.

Franco holds tightly to his style throughout, even when the drama is ramped up in an emotionally gripping finale.

April’s Daughter is The Jerry Springer Show for an arthouse audience. It might be just as ludicrous and divisive for some, but there is much to admire in both Franco’s filmmaking and Suarez’s performance.

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