Molly Manning Walker's directorial debut, How to Have Sex, evades the typical curve first features are graded upon. It's no easy feat to create a film, and new filmmakers should be afforded some grace and patience as they find their footing in the form — but for Manning Walker, such grace and patience is unnecessary. Following three girlfriends who head to Crete to celebrate the end of high school, How to Have Sex considers the pressures young women face in a wholly realized coming-of-age film that intrinsically understands growing pains.
Through Mia McKenna-Bruce's strikingly honest portrayal of young Tara, we bounce off the uninhibited joy of befriending strangers, drinking with friends and flirting with cute boys. Along with Enva Lewis's Em and Lara Peake's Skye, the three girls get dressed up, go out on the town and eventually befriend the group in the hotel room next to theirs.
Amidst all the drunken stupors and raging hormones, Tara, Em and Skye discuss what the next few years hold, with Em's academic future certain and Skye's enthusiasm high for a more wild and free approach. There's a gentle simmer to Tara as she weighs her options, seemingly preferring to follow Em but unable to given her grades, while coveting something more than Skye's ambitions. This uncertainty spills into her social life, getting caught between the goofy boy who cares for her and the good-looking prick who, as teens, we were conditioned to think was the desirable choice.
How to Have Sex follows the time-honoured themes of a coming-of-age story with great sensitivity and subtlety. Manning Walker, who pulls double duty as screenwriter, gives Tara the moderate temperament the vast majority of audiences will relate to — never all the way confident but not meek in the slightest, she's simply a young woman trying to understand her place and make sense of what her world can offer.
The movie turns on a dark moment that will live with Tara and effect much of who she becomes and how she perceives life in the future. In a rather discerning move, Manning Walker regards the actual moment in the film swiftly, and since the movie concludes at the end of their holiday, we can't be certain how this will effect Tara down the line. But for anyone who has been a situation remotely close to Tara's, there's a disarming understanding that Manning Walker and McKenna-Bruce conjure.
A steady yet unsettling tone guides the remainder of the film, quietly hanging over Tara. McKenna-Bruce gives in to this mood without giving up Tara's bubbly persona, and while also painting the character with a patina of lonesome dread — it's a truly stunning and multifaceted performance.
Like most holidays, How to Have Sex feels like it's over just as it's beginning — memories created that will become more dreamlike as the years go by. The film doesn't end on a resolute conclusion; it simply continues on as life would, and in doing so, Manning Walker tells the story of Tara with a sincerity not often seen.
Rather than dispelling answer to her audience, Manning Walker accepts that, whether 16 years old or 30, there's an uncertainty that prevails and it's neither good nor bad — it just simply is.