de facto film reviews 3 stars

An emotionally raw, energetic, fractured and finally poignant coming-of-age drama about a trio of young women who go on a summer trip together to a beach resort on the Greek islands of Crete for a summer together before they go off to college in the autumn. This is the moment for the girls to liberate themselves from adolescence and to become women as they embark on a summer getaway of drinking blue acholic drinks, dancing at dance clubs, and hooking up with attractive guys. Molly Manning Walker’s directorial debut How to Have Sex is a striking directorial debut, which won the Un Certain Regard award at Cannes, builds up similarities to Harmony Korine’s 2013 iconic film Spring Breakers, but it holds a more emotional center. While it’s not as provocative as Corine’s, the film is every bit as sensory with its artistry. The film might have an edgy title, and the material might come across as edgy in its approach, but it’s never sexually explicit and it’s tastefully made. The film also holds a lot of nuance and maturity in that it strays away from culture-war posturing and allows the material to foster more realistically.

The film opens very energetically and almost as if it’s a continuation of Spring Breakers as we open up with a trio of young ladies—Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce), Skye (Lara Peake), and Fi (Eilidh Loan)—dancing and drinking with exuberance as they lay hold of the moment and enjoy their friendship. The film is very delicate in how it explores the power of consent, and it is also uncompromising in its examination of sexual abuse. The film is also a portrait of friendship and how they find themselves halfway between adolescence and womanhood. Their main objective in going to the island is to have fun, dance, and have sex, as they want to make a summer to remember.

HOW TO HAVE SEX Trailer: Molly Manning Walker's Electrifying Cannes Winner Arrives Soon From MUBI - Hammer to Nail Courtesy Mubi

The film eventually becomes more of a psychological drama as we get into Tara’s state of mind. It’s clear Tara is the least experienced of the three, but she longs to fit in with Skye. We are with her when she isn’t up front about her sexual experiences, and she inflates her experiences to impress her friends. We also feel her shame, her discomfort, her uncertainty, and the confusion that comes with it. In society, many women are condemned for having sex, as if they don’t experience it; they are labeled as “prudes”; if they do, they are labeled with other derogatory words; or if they stay virgins, they are mocked for “puritans.” There are so many contradictory labels where the psychical act can cause so much confusion and shame, and Walker addresses these realities with a moral barometer and gives a fresh perspective through what many young women experience.

A lot of the time, pressure is often at play. Walker’s narrative shows these pressures unfold. She focuses on Tara’s longing to be validated, not only with her friends but romantically or platonically. After being motivated by Skye to get out of her shell, Tara does dance and makes out with a boy, only to be labeled a “freak,” in which Skye says she was only “joking,” where she uses insults to mask her own insecurities. The film shows how close friends can be to one another, yet they keep the truth away due to how society views sex as status. Skye even mocks Tara for being a virgin, and Tara tells her not to bring it up. With all of this, the character of Fi actually becomes more sidelined. She seems to be the most level-headed and diplomatic of the three, but the film mostly focuses more on the dynamics between Tara and Skye. The scenes with Em (Enva Lewis) bring the most warmth and render some poignancy to the film.

Movie Review: In 'How to Have Sex,' the party suddenly stops being fun - Newsday Courtesy Mubi

The film’s complete success is how it explores Tara’s loss of virginity and how it plays out whether it was an act of consent or not. We open with Badger (Shaun Thomas), who has been eying her from the hotel balcony since they have arrived, but everything feels woozy when they arrive. Through a non-linear structure, the film loops back to introduce the evening, and we’re introduced to Badger’s friend Paddy (Samuel Bottomley), who is the guy she loses his virginity to, and we see details of the event in how it wasn’t consensual and rather how she was coerced into it. The tension escalates further between Tara and Skye, and you can see it in Tara’s eyes in how she feels trust was broken.

First-time writer/director Molly Manning Walker certainly brings a delicate insight to this tale of teenage girls looking to have fun and being forced to confront the harsh and unsafe realities of how some are willing to violate their yearning for exuberance. Coming-of-age films are often about the loss of innocence, and the environment reflects the naivety of their protagonists, but Walker explores the harsh realities of how places that embrace a place of pleasure and exuberance are often polluted into a place of abuse, pain, and predators. Ultimately, it becomes a very effective tale of innocence and peer pressure. Walker takes a very considered and sensitive approach with her style, which borders between naturalism and lyricism. Across the board, this film is a showcase of so much promising talent.

How to Have Sex opens in limited theaters Friday, February 2nd, 2024.