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Mia McKenna-Bruce navigates becoming a woman amid Crete's nightclubs in "How to Have Sex." Courtesy BFI

Over in the U.K., people are losing their minds over a movie with the attention-grabbing title of How to Have Sex. It popped up on several critics’ top 10 lists over there. Not here, though, because the film wasn’t released in America until after the new year. For our purposes, it’s a 2024 film rather than a 2023 one. I have seen it now, and while I admit I don’t share my British colleagues’ enthusiasm for this film, there is something here. You can perhaps see it this weekend when it opens at the Alamo Drafthouse Denton.

Mia McKenna-Bruce plays Tara, a girl who has just completed her last term at school and has gone to Crete with her much-taller school friends Em and Skye (Enva Lewis and Lara Peake) to celebrate. In Tara’s case, she’s also there to lose her virginity, something she’s been anxious to do. Then one morning after yet another night of partying, her friends wake up and find that she hasn’t come back to the hotel room, nor is she in the one next door with the English boys who chatted them up.

This isn’t a murder mystery, and Tara does resurface sans virginity. This is structured rather like The Hangover, but with a more serious bent. The sexual experience isn’t what she hoped for, and she spends the rest of the film trying to process it. The movie’s title notwithstanding, there is no nudity in this movie, though the characters spend a lot of time in their bikinis and Speedos. First-time writer-director Molly Manning Walker shot this film in Crete, and she captures the sweat and the grime of the nightclubs and overcrowded hotel suites during the first days of summer in the Greek islands. The film only runs 90 minutes, but the ratio of atmosphere to plot developments is rather too much, and I get the uneasy sense that this would have worked better as a short film. I also sense that the film made a greater impression across the Atlantic because the British don’t have a history of making films driven by young women’s hormones like this.

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McKenna-Bruce does well conveying Tara’s inner turmoil as she withdraws while also increasing her partying after learning that she bottled it on her exams. The film revolves around a queasy scene when a second encounter with her sexual partner veers into rape territory, in broad daylight with several of her friends in the next room. She’s still trying to make sense of it at the airport for the flight back, with her friends running around the concourse like the kids that they are. Thankfully she does gain the realization that what happened to her was wrong, and How to Have Sex ends on a note that convinces us that as unfulfilled as the trip has left her, Tara might return to Britain wiser for it.

How to Have Sex
Starring Mia McKenna-Bruce. Written and directed by Molly Manning Walker. Not rated.

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