How To Have Sex Review

Molly Manning-Walker’s Un Certain Regard-winning feature debut is the most frank depiction of adolescent experiences of sexual assault and remains the most nuanced exploration of consent on screen I have seen to-date. 

The post-GCSE holiday, festival or general binge-drinking fiasco is an occasion known by many young British individuals, myself included – although I never went abroad. Molly Manning Walker’s directorial debut transported me back to my own post-gcse pilgrimage; an excursion to the results-day destination of Reading Festival – a synthesis of sipping vodka straight from water bottles, bucket hats on heads and Becky Hill blasting on bluetooth speakers. I was reminded not only of the fun freedom I was afforded, but also of regular visits from older boys enquiring who we had planned to make our ‘festival boyfriends’ and their constant questioning of how sexually active we were. 

Sitting in Bloomsbury Curzon on a Tuesday afternoon, the visceral presentation of the experiences of 3 teenage girls on a trip to Malia,  Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce), Skye (Lara Peake) and Em (Enva Lewis), served as a mirror and a reminder of my own experiences and the testimonials of my peers and friends – feeling at times more like a documentary in delivery than fiction.

Fuchsia lights, Joel Corry club hits and sweaty foreheads meeting over a fishbowl introduced audiences to the trio. Sitting down, curb-side with cheesy-chips, and engaging in garbled discussions of how much they vow to love one-another forever was comically verbatim of many of the conversations one has had with their closest girlfriends. By confidently including moments of both euphoric glee and inconsolable distress, Walker demonstrated her ability to brilliantly showcase the labyrinth of emotions felt during the course of the girls trip.

Supported and reflected within Nicolas Canniccioni’s cinematography, a sensory showcase of vibrant, hedonistic Malia nightscapes is presented, as are the slow-moving depictions of the next-day hangover. The soundtrack of sometimes subtle and other deafening EDM founded beats – foreboding and fun – encapsulates the claustrophobic chaos of Malia, a never-ending experience the protagonist is rarely afforded a break from.

As the second day of the holiday arrives, as does the introduction of 3 older Brits abroad, Badger (Shaun Thomas), Paddy (Samuel Bottomley) and Paige (Laura Ambler), whose arrival prompts a shift in dynamics alongside immediate discussions of virginity, desirability and sexuality. In a notably honest manner the group dynamics showcase the internalised and external pressures to be sexually experienced and active – even at times coming from the inner sanctuary of close female friends. 

Consent within this film is approached not with a simplistic binary lens, but with one which asks the audience to see consent and sex as an act which should be one of care and humanity for both participants. Walker non-judgmentally offers a platform for vulnerability and power to be seen as key human experiences which are a part of the landscape of sex and the wider pressure of virginity. She highlights the subject of peer accountability amongst men and solidarity as well as the neglect amongst female friends.

This is a must-see film that offers an honesty I haven’t seen on screen since Micheala Coel’s 2020 masterpiece  I May Destroy You. Manning has spoken openly about the powerful and positive support from film 4, MUBI and her team, despite certain individuals questioning the making of the film on the grounds that consent as a subject was already sufficiently portrayed within the visual arts. 

Yet, it is vital that these stories and voices are funded and portrayed on screen; as it allows for understanding to be communicated visually, in a society where individual testimonial regarding sexual violence is routinely ignored.

By Abby Hunt

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