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film review
  • How to Have Sex
  • Written and directed by Molly Manning Walker
  • Starring Mia McKenna-Bruce, Lara Peake and Samuel Bottomley
  • Classification 14A; 91 minutes
  • Opens in select theatres Feb. 9

Critic’s Pick

On holiday in Greece, three best friends from London vow to party, dance and hook up with abandon. So the premise of How to Have Sex is a relatable one; it hits with anybody who, in the earnestness of youth, once believed screaming, “Best vacay ever!” would yield results worth celebrating. On its surface, the film serves as a gateway into the frivolity of being young and the hedonism that tends to run parallel with coming of age. However, writer-director Molly Manning Walker uses her narrative to examine the underbelly of teen party culture, the pressures to conform to social norms and, most urgently, the significance of consent.

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As Tara (Mia McKenna-Bruce) reconciles with being the least sexually fluent of her friend group, Walker establishes the way sexuality (or lack thereof) can be weaponized as a power tool. Tara wears her inexperience as a social stigma; her own friends view it as a shortcoming, spurring her into a predatory sexual situation in which she’s left vulnerable. Yet How to Have Sex isn’t a lesson in shaming (and thank goodness). Instead, it illuminates the tragic commonality of sexual assault. It underscores the gravity of being able to maintain one’s sexual agency, and to dictate the terms of one’s own bodily autonomy. The film treats Tara, her feelings and her experiences seriously. And rightfully so: this is neither a raunchy comedy nor a romp. How to Have Sex reads more as a painful slice of life.

McKenna-Bruce gives a shattering and unforgettable performance as Tara, a young woman so entrenched in the present she can’t see her own potential, while strong supporting performances by Lara Peake and Enva Lewis (Tara’s best friends) highlight the emotional gravitas of teenhood and the complexity behind one’s motivations. How to Have Sex is a stressful and infuriating watch because its arc isn’t reserved for fictional characters. Instead, it serves as the jumping point for bigger conversations that are all too common, timely as they are heartbreaking.

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