Courtesy of MUBI

THREE BEST friends head off in the early hours to catch a flight to Malia. They have just finished their GCSEs, and are desperately trying not to think about results. The girls are Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce), Skye (Lara Peake) and Em (Enva Lewis). What awaits them in the promised land? Drinking and clubbing and boys. Life-changing experiences, sweet and horrific.

Besides looming grades, what’s really weighing on Tara in How to Have Sex (good title) is her virginity. Anyone who has ever been a teenager will sympathise with anxieties around coming-of-age experiences. You need to get them out the way, you yearn for adulthood, you constantly worry about the opinions of friends. Maybe the next generation has a chiller view of such things, but not so for this cohort. For Tara, both robust and childlike, opportunity comes calling (with ill-judged tattoos and bleached hair) in the form of their rowdy hotel neighbours “Badger” (Shaun Thomas), Paddy (Samuel Bottomley) and Paige (Laura Ambler). The groups mix and, like a lethal combination of too much vodka and not enough Coke, it leads to fun and disaster.

Heading into How to Have Sex, one is prepared for talking points around sex and consent and how boys treat girls. It is true that the film would be good for teenagers and their parents – and really, anyone who has sex – to watch, but it is entertaining as well as educational. Writer-director Molly Manning Walker, responsible for the cinematography for Scrapper, draws out the group’s relationship dynamic with pleasing ambiguity, capturing the sensory barrage and unrelenting thrum of these teenage escapes. McKenna-Bruce and Bottomley are stand-outs. The film won the Un Certain Regard prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and if there’s going to be an Aftersun­-shaped sleeper hit for autumn, How to Have Sex fits the bill, not least because its budget holiday setting is so similar and vividly evoked as in Charlotte Wells’ Oscar-nominated debut.

But How to Have Sex is its own thing, cracking open a universal horror at a specific age. If the film feels overly impressionistic at times, it does speak to the constant forward motion of youth: being young is an unending attempt to catch up with your friends or simply where you think you should be. That summer before your friends move onto different schools may feel like your last summer ever. In the years that follow, as you parse those whiplash experiences, you (ideally) learn, and realise that there is still a lot of time to mess up and do things right. Should a 16-year-old have to learn about those things on a summer break? No: no one should ever have to. But people do because people can suck and life moves on. And sometimes, in the back of a taxi or in a departure lounge, you realise that you might be fine or at least okay enough for a while until you actually are.

‘How to Have Sex’ is in cinemas on 3 November.

A version of this story originally appeared on Esquire UK.


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