There was an acting skill that was so crucial to the performances in How to have sex that writer-director Molly Manning Walker says it became a “huge part” of the film’s casting process. “It was like, ‘Pretend you’re drunk!’ — and you could see it right away,” she explains. Someone told Walker, who made her directorial debut after several years as a cinematographer (the recent Sundance bow scraper) and making short films, a key approach was to “pretend you’re not drunk, and that you hide it from everyone”.
In the first few scenes, it’s clear why this was such an important element. The film, which will premiere in the Un Certain Regard competition at Cannes, follows three British teenage girls who experience the summer vacation of a lifetime in Malia, the Greek seaside resort and party town notorious for its riotous nightlife (especially with young Brits) . Their vacation plans are relatively simple: party, get drunk, and meet up.
Played by Mia McKenna-Bruce (recently featured in Netflix’s Persuasion), Lara Peake (How to Talk to Girls at Parties), and newcomer Enva Lewis (selected from 250 hopefuls), the trio performs the “get waste” part with expert precision and is comically seen falling out of clubs and bars, throwing up in the street and staggering back to their hotel room, only to kick it off again the next day.
In addition to the cast’s obvious ability to appear on camera heavily intoxicated, another method was used, one that may not have been taught in drama school. “We’d also do this thing — which we have in all the outtakes — where for every scene they’re drunk, we’d spin them around on their feet,” says Walker. As McKenna-Bruce quips, “Yeah, I think that’s a bit Stanislavski.”
The wild party scenes – actually shot in Malia (but out of season, so the clubs were usually filled with local Greek extras, all cast to look like young Brits) – are likely to divide the audience between those who want to be there with those who ghosts have flowed down their throats and those who would rather be literally anywhere else. Large parts were inspired by Walker’s own experiences, with her admitting to going on many similar vacations as a teenager. “I was a completely different person,” she says. “Fake hair, fake lashes, covered in fake tan.”
Some scenes in How to have sex came from evoking those memories and establishing if they did in fact take place (including one of the most dazzling scenes where two Brits compete for a blow job on stage in front of hundreds of drunken, cheering revelers). “I met a bunch of friends and thought, ‘Didn’t that happen?’ because it was a little crazy.
Despite all the chaos, there is the looming sense that something unpleasant is ahead. When it finally arrives, the story takes a dark turn, one about sexual consent and what exactly that means. Is saying ‘yes’ enough? What happens when someone is clearly not having a good time? “We wanted to talk subtly about the gray area of assault,” says Walker. “And for me it’s about education about sex, especially with young boys, and how nobody talks about female pleasure — everyone talks about male pleasure.”