How to Have Sex – movie review

Consent is at the core of the coming-of-age drama How to Have Sex. Frankly, this is a film that needs to be seen by teenagers and their parents and grandparents. Everything seems to be going as it does when youngsters let their hair down, until a line is crossed. After that, there’s no coming back.

Three 16-year-old British girls – Tara (Mia Mckenna-Bruce), Skye (Lara Peake) and Em (Enva Lewis) – take a trip to the Greek party resort of Malia. Tara is the only virgin among them and wants to break her duck. All three let their hair down – they swim, smoke, drink to excess, go clubbing and don’t reveal their real age. Em hooks up with another girl, Paige (Laura Ambler). Skye hangs about with intent and Tara hits it off with a guy who is all but touching distance away – on the neighbouring hotel balcony.

Nicknamed Badger (Shaun Thomas), first appearances paint him as rougher than he turns out to be. Like the girls, he too drinks too much and parties hard. But he remains respectful – until he participates in a sexually-charged  game that doesn’t impress Tara. Badger is on the island with a childhood mate, Paddy (Samuel Bottomley). They live in the same street and their mothers are best friends. Paddy takes advantage of a vulnerable Tara, after which – understandably – she changes. Her withdrawn nature hides a raft of emotions as what happened plays out over and over again in her head.

And yet there’s more in store. Meanwhile, unaware of the real circumstances, Skye simply plays up the fact that Tara is no longer a virgin. Em, on the other hand, comes to understand the magnitude of what happened to Tara on Malia.

How to Have Sex has all the appearance of everyday reality. Yet, I can’t countenance the fact that three 16-year-old girls are allowed to travel on their own to a party island. I kept reflecting on schoolies on the Gold Coast, where the teens would be at least a year or two older. Nevertheless, the same thing could quite conceivably happen to them … and, of course, that’s the whole point.

First time filmmaker Molly Manning Walker makes a significant impression with a well-considered screenplay and direction. She deliberately builds elements of ambiguity into the script. She was inspired by reminiscences of a rite of passage trip she took to a Mediterranean party resort where the sexual pressure was tangible.

Mia Mckenna-Bruce transitions Tara well from loud and carefree to circumspect and troubled. Lara Peake paints a less than sympathetic portrait of Skye, while Enva Lewis appears far more empathetic as Em. Shaun Thomas brings layers to Badger and Samuel Bottomley at best showcases narcissism and entitlement as Paddy.

Director of Photography Nicolas Canniccioni readily paints a raucous and salacious environment. Composer James Jacob’s score adds authenticity.

While a distressing watch, How to Have Sex has an important story to tell and it tells it well.

Alex First


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