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How to Have Sex

  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
How to Have Sex
Photograph: MUBI

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Smart and provocative, this Brits-abroad drama offers a sensitive take on sex and consent

As three teenage girls race giggling into their hotel room in Greece, their excitement is infectious. Comically, and revealingly, they marvel at the size and location of a bog-standard apartment. It transpires that Tara (Mia McKenna Bruce), Em (Enva Lewis) and Skye (Lara Peake) have decided to await their GCSE results in a Crete hotel awash with pre-party shots and sexual opportunity. 

Tara is the one remaining virgin, and there’s jokey pressure on her to pop her cherry. It’s clear the weight of expectation hangs heavy as she nervously flirts with the Northern boys in the room next door. The film’s title takes on a more complex hue as it goes on to explore communication, social pressure and the dynamics between genders and sexualities in this heady little group of new mates, well played by a mixture of established actors and newcomers.

It’s an absorbing watch that’s given added authenticity by the shifting tone: this doesn’t just go dark and stay there. Like the girls’ moods, or a real holiday, it ebbs and flows between fun and serious, uplifting and troubling, exciting and mundane. Cinematographer-turned-director Molly Manning Walker captures what it’s like to be a teenager with sensitivity and compassion, refusing to judge characters or fall into cliché. She mines her giddy teens for laughs, but also with affection and an eye for detail. This is set in a culture of clumsy sexual hedonism, where boys are pulled up on stage for blow jobs from strangers. This particular scene is humorous but performs a dramatic function, as Tara sees possible prospect Badger (Shaun Thomas) in a new light.

It’s an absorbing watch set in a world of clumsy sexual hedonism 

With bleach blond hair and tattoos, Thomas is barely recognisable as the boy from The Selfish Giant. His experience of working with Clio Barnard in both that and Ali & Ava has prepared him well for a key role in another smart, realist drama. While Badger's introduction is not auspicious – we meet him cat-calling Tara on the balcony – he becomes a warm and thoughtful presence on her emotional journey, often offering sympathy and concern with a single look. This is in contrast to his friend Paddy (Samuel Bottomley), the classic handsome a-hole who gets all the girls.

How To Have Sex is a wild and fun ride, whose sober moments are as important as they are uncomfortable. Through thick and thin, you'll want to join the girls on this trip to remember.

In US cinemas Feb 2. Available to stream in the UK.

Written by
Anna Smith

Cast and crew

  • Director:Molly Manning Walker
  • Screenwriter:Molly Manning Walker
  • Cast:
    • Daisy Jelley
    • Samuel Bottomley
    • Shaun Thomas
    • Mia McKenna Bruce
    • Lara Peake
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