Review: How to Have Sex is an incredible coming-of-age story about teen hedonism, sex and consent

The debut film from Molly Manning Walker is one of the most effective coming-of-age tales I've ever seen, brilliantly depicting the bliss, discovery, awkwardness, thrills and horror of that special time of life where you transition from child to adult.

How to Have Sex has been winning praise for the groundbreaking way it depicts consent and normalised sexual assault - and rightfully so.

But it's important to know that's not all it is and it's far from a finger-wagging 'message' movie. For much of the running time, this is a party movie like Human Traffic or Dazed and Confused, albeit with a franker, almost documentary-style feel.

The film follows three young women from the UK who have just finished high school and are off on their first holiday without parents to a hedonistic Greek party island. The gals are fascinated by and obsessed with sex - as well as drinking an ungodly amount of booze all day every day.

There's an authenticity to how they talk and act that's refreshing because it's rare, and all the more impressive as Walker's debut. Beyond the brilliant performances she gets from her cast, how the debauchery and everything else is filmed is remarkably assured.

Where How to Have Sex differs from other wild party movies is by not hiding the ugly side of wild partying. Walker makes it eerie seeing a street that was packed with revelry and joy at night empty the morning after with rubbish strewn everywhere.

There is a sinister undercurrent lurking that grows and grows through clever, subtle filmmaking techniques as well as what overtly befalls our characters.

How to Have Sex is in cinemas nationwide.
How to Have Sex is in cinemas nationwide. Photo credit: Ahi Films

But life is complicated - it's not always all euphoria then all darkness. Even after terrible things happen to our protagonists, new beautifully kind strangers continue to populate their stories. While the film gets more and more anxiety-inducing, it's far from black and white, and the confusion of the characters is realised onscreen too.

The authenticity of the teens prominent early on is carried right through everything that comes later, including the awful nature of peer pressure, expected behaviour and how the responsibility is put on victims after something horrible is done to them rather than the perpetrators.

And that's what makes it more horrific. What happens later in this film is striking a chord with many viewers because of how shockingly relatable it is - it's not like what you see in horror movies, it's what happened to your mate that time, or even what your mate maybe did that time.

How to Have Sex is an incredible and hugely meaningful film about the adolescent experience. But for some people it will be more than just a film - it may give a greater understanding of things that have happened in their life, or prepare them for things that might yet.

Four-and-a-half stars.

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