Directed by: Molly Manning Walker
Written by: Molly Manning Walker
Starring: Mia McKenna-Bruce, Lara Peake, Samuel Bottomley, Shaun Thomas, Enva Lewis, Laura Ambler
Released: March 7, 2024
Grade: A-

How to Have Sex

When Hollywood makes coming-of-age tales centred on teenagers, the tendency is to cast actors who act and speak like 35-year-olds.  That’s not the case with How to Have Sex, the debut feature film of British director Molly Manning Walker.  In addition to winning the Un Certain Regard prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, it recently picked up a nod for best British feature film at the BAFTA Awards (losing to The Zone of Interest).

Mia McKenna-Bruce (Persuasion), Lara Peake (Mood), and newcomer Enva Lewis star as Tara, Skye, and Em – three 16-year-old Brits who have gone on a “schoolies” style island holiday to Malia in Greece.  They annoyed the hell of me… and I intend that to be a huge compliment.  Speaking as a 46-year-old guy who is out-of-touch with the youth of today, I saw these young women as frustratingly hyperactive and immature.

It’s the first time any of them are experiencing the independence of being away from their parents on an overseas holiday and their goals are to get as drunk and laid as possible.  They write themselves off on the first day, and it reaches the point where they’re vomiting in the gutter while simultaneously saying how much they love each other and will be “besties for life”.  It’s a pattern that continues for several evenings as they sleep off their hangovers, lounge by the resort’s pool, and go out drinking again (oblivious to any lessons from the night before).

There’s a more important layer to Walker’s film which is disturbing and thought-provoking.  Tara is the only virgin of the trio and, feeling pressure to remove the tag, she drunkenly hooks up with a British kid (Bottomley) staying in the room next door.  It’s an uncomfortable encounter which raises questions about sexual consent.  It leaves Tara rattled and over the next few days, her personality shifts as she reflects on what took place and whether anything needs to be said.

This is a very good film.  In addition to its core theme, it has something to say about party culture (there’s a head-shaking scene involving a public blowjob), peer pressure, jealously, responsibility, the impacts of alcohol, and the importance of friendships.  Walker covers all of this inside a tight 91 minutes.  What you ultimately take away from the movie will depend on your own age and experiences.  The natural performances of the actors, often talking over the top of each other, give it the vibe of a documentary.  This adds to the emotional impact.

How to Have Sex is not to be missed.