Reel Reviews | How To Have Sex (Sundance ’24)

by Tim Gordon

Three British girls go on holiday to celebrate their lives, achievements, and future, for one of them, finds out How To Have Sex.

Tara and her friends have decided to take a trip together to enjoy each other before they go off to university. As soon as they arrive, they plunge headfirst into smoking and constant drinking without abandon. Their singular declaration is that they are going to make sure that Tara loses her virginity before their trip concludes. After one night of partying, the crew meets up with a set of guys and the hookups begin. Soon, however, the weekend of bacchanalia becomes more than it was meant to be with serious consequences that test the bonds and even the definition of their friendship.

How to Have Sex is the debut feature of Molly Manning Walker as a writer and director. Previously, Walker worked as a cinematographer on Scrapper and Mood. Sex stars Lara Peake, Enva Lewis, Laura Ambler, Samuel Bottomley, Shaun Thomas, and Mia McKenna-Bruce as Tara.

How To Have Sex is a coming-of-age young adult drama. The film won the Un Certain Regard Prize at Cannes in 2023. It has also been nominated for several BAFTA awards. Molly Manning Walker deserves recognition for creating an atmosphere that accurately, if not terrifyingly, portrays reckless teenage abandon.

Kudos to McKenna-Bruce for her unflinching and honest portrayal of a young girl under an intense amount of peer pressure. We soon learn that her overexuberance at the beginning of the movie is little more than an act for a girl who is not ready to grow up. It is exceedingly intriguing to see Tara attempt to shake off her trauma and proceed with her weekend partying. McKenna-Bruce is very effective in displaying her emotions non-verbally through slight but perceptible facial expressions. Even though the soundtrack and the party continue, Tara’s face tells the viewers that she is in another place.

Molly Manning Walker does not shy away from recording the reckless behaviors that occur in the world of today’s youth and the scary thought of how out of control our children can become when they are away from supervision. Throughout the movie, Tara gets calls from her mother. Tara ignores them all because she consciously needs to be absent from her parents to partake in the activities of her friends. The most important commentary that Walker makes in this movie is that not everyone is equipped physically and emotionally to deal with the consequences that can arise in the seemingly innocuous, hook-up culture that exists in the world of youth and young adult partying. Without being preachy or even mentioning the Bible, Ms. Walker gives us a glimpse into the downside of adultery.

It almost desired that Ms. Walker would make a more definitive statement though. The incident at the center of the movie is never completely seen or even experienced. The victim never really speaks about the incident either. Of course, many women have been the victim of similar incidents and force themselves to be silent. In this case, instead of portraying reality, this film could have been an opportunity to show that they don’t have to anymore.

How To Have Sex has not yet been rated by the MPAA. The movie does include scenes of smoking, drug and alcohol use, suggestive scenes of sex, and pervasive language, and should not be seen by children under the age of 17. How To Have Sex is a sad, ugly, and depressing look at a rite-of-passage problem from which every parent wishes they could protect their children.

Grade: C