Film Ireland’s Assistant Editor Smrithika Majukar casts an eye on the powerful drama How To Have Sex.
Starting out fluorescent, drunken, dark, and loud, How To Have Sex presents a poignant portrayal of three women growing up and growing out of being girls. Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce), Skye (Lara Peake) and Fi (Eilidh Loan) revel in the blinding joy of young, female friendships and childlike optimism on what is supposed to be the rite-of-passage holiday in the best summer of their lives.
The award-winning feature is written and directed by Molly Manning Walker, who is passionate about creating art that is honest about consent and the traumatising experience of sexual abuse. The film – her feature debut – won the Un Certain Regard at Cannes this year and has garnered praise for Walker’s noteworthy and non-traditional style of storytelling. A Trio of best friends Tara, Skye and Fi find themselves walking the baptismal (and frankly traumatising) bridge between adolescence and adulthood.
As they arrive in the Greek Island of Malia, these three girls have goals: they are here to dance; they are here to have sex; and they are here to have the best summer of their lives. When Tara is subjected to the unfortunately ugly answer to the question of how to have sex, the film flips the narrative, exploring this physical act and the shame that often comes with it. This narrative is enhanced by the sound and production design. The film’s sound design accentuates the depth of Tara’s experience and gives the audience insight into her state of mind. A carefully chosen pin-drop silence creates fractures of contemplation in her efforts to distract herself from the abuse she is subjected to. She numbs herself dancing to the club’s EDM tracks. Tara’s character is a reflection of the many women who are plagued by societal shame: a facet that Walker is passionate to address. This translates stunningly when the fluorescents and neons are stripped off of Tara’s colours, draining the standout brightness of her adolescence as it slowly drains into the complacency of whites, beiges and greys.
Molly Manning Walker’s writing is a lesson in “show, don’t tell”. Tara’s yearning for acceptance, whether platonic or romantic, is palpable, with seemingly casual statements having profound impacts on her. The phrases “you’re not my type” or “no boy is going to be happy with you” carry enough weight to entirely shatter Tara. Tara and Skye’s friendship is a tumultuous tide of teenage tiffs, swaying between self-preservation and friendship. It starts with the small things: she calls Tara a freak and then bandages the wound with a dose of “I’m only joking.” Possibly dealing with her own insecurities, can Skye really be blamed for being who she is? Every conversation between Tara and Skye is a step closer to the truth they probably do not want to face: they will not be best friends for very long, because they will grow out of each others’ company.
A relationship that deserved more screen time in the film is the love between Tara and Fi. Fi is the friend you’ll take with you from cradle to grave, the one who regrets not looking out for you, the one who will sit on the floor in the Airport Duty Free and stop you from gaslighting yourself, and the one who will bring you back home even if you’re slightly broken. Take yourself, your Fi’s, and your younger sisters to the theatre to watch this film: you’ll definitely need a shoulder to carry the heaviness of the experience that is How To Have Sex.
How To Have Sex is in cinemas from 3rd November 2023