Across 70 iterations, the Queens of Cannes‘ past have come in varied forms, whether it’s perennial acting contender Isabelle Huppert (who showed the youngins how it’s done in mom jeans on Sunday’s photo call for Claire’s Camera) or filmmaking veteran Naomi Kawase, who seemingly has a competition title screening in the south of France at least once per year. In 2017, however, a new royal has sashayed onto the Croisette court: Nicole Kidman, who’s staked a claim on just about every inch of international entertainment industry real estate, but has otherwise yet to nab a major accolade at Cannes.
That stands to change this year, as the 49-year-old carries a wave of momentum generated by her Oscar-nominated turn in Garth Davis’ Lion and critically acclaimed performance in HBO’s Big Little Lies to the shores of France this weekend, where the first of four projects starring the Academy Award-winning performer has been unveiled for critics.
The consensus? Not as good as many had hoped, but there’s room to grow in the days ahead. In John Cameron Mitchell’s How to Talk to Girls at Parties, Kidman re-teams with the Hedwig and the Angry Inch director who coached her toward an Oscar nod on his 2010 drama Rabbit Hole, giving a performance that sees the acting vet channeling both Toyah Wilcox and Dick Van Dyke, per The Guardian‘s Xan Brooks. Kidman supports a cast that includes Elle Fanning as a young, alien girl, Zan, who captures the attention of an earthly teen, Enn (Alex Sharp), during the 1970s punk revolution in the U.K.
Brooks’ comparison is one of the few favorable ones he makes in his two-star review, going on to call the film “extravagantly muddled” and “borderline incontinent.” While not a gleaming reaction to the project, IndieWire‘s Eric Kohn is a bit more forgiving, giving the film a B- grade while hailing it as a “bizarre return to form” for the filmmaker.
Twitter similarly supported the film’s zany aesthetic, with Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan noting that you’ve never “really lived till you’ve seen Nicole Kidman shriek ‘yi-yi-yi-yi-yi!’ in a punk-vs-alien melee,” amid a flurry of other users who heralded the reemergence of Mitchell’s singular vision in film, including film reporter Alicia Malone, who tweeted that the film is a “wonderfully wacky alien / punk rock comedy with a huge human heart at its center.”
On Thursday, Fanning, Mitchell, and Neil Gaiman, who wrote the short story the film is based on, shared a series of first look teaser trailers from the production, which offered a sneak peek at Kidman’s bonkers costumes and the film’s rollicking sensibility, with Kidman raising a fist to lead a band of minions in what appears to be a heated uprising of some sort.
So, where does How to Talk to Girls at Parties stand among Kidman’s filmography, and what does it mean for her chances at earning Oscar recognition yet again this year? Judging by early reactions, including Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman calling it “the biggest dud I’ve seen at this year’s Cannes Film Festival,” probably not much. Kidman’s roles in Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled and Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer (both in competition this year) have generated considerable buzz in their own right, and will probably use the screen legend in more of a less glaringly garish capacity.
Even if Girls is a bit of a miss, Kidman rewrites the playbook on her own terms, and she’s got three swings left to bat a Cannes home run.
How to Talk to Girls at Parties, which also stars The Affair‘s Ruth Wilson, is expected to debut in theaters later this year via A24. Check out review excerpts below.
Eric Kohn (IndieWire)
“Hokey aliens invade the seventies British punk scene in John Cameron Mitchell’s How to Talk to Girls at Parties, and the results are not nearly as ridiculous as that sounds — for a while, at least. Channeling the communal intimacy of “Shortbus” and the riotous musicality of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Mitchell transforms Neil Gaiman’s sci-fi short story into a vibrant, edgy and at times outright goofy statement on tough antiestablishment rebels and freewheeling hippy vibes, suggesting that they’re not really all that that different.”
Best Kidman shout-out:“After a messy night out at the cramped venue run by the domineering Queen Boadicea (a wonderfully wacky, rage-filled Nicole Kidman), the boys head out in search of a house party, inadvertently stumbling onto something much stranger: A houseful of monotonous characters decked out in neon latex engaged in cryptic dances and speaking in bizarre, cultish generalities.”
Xan Brooks (The Guardian)
“[The film’s premise is] the premise right until the moment it’s not, when Cameron Mitchell decides to adopt another premise, and then another after that. What an extravagantly muddled, borderline incontinent film this is. You might call it genre-hopping, except that this would imply some degree of intent and control. More likely it’s genre-slipping, genre-skidding; sometimes endearing but never knowingly coherent. Ah well. If you only see one gritty punk-rock coming-of-age sci-fi kids fantasy caper in this lifetime, maybe double-check the listings before you alight on this one.”
Best Kidman shout-out: “Kidman channels Toyah Wilcox – not to mention Dick Van Dyke – as part of an extravagantly muddled adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s aliens v punks short story… [as the alien] leader, naturally, is Boadicea (Nicole Kidman, trying hard), a peroxide, attitudinal punk designer. She looks like Toyah Wilcox and she sounds like Dick Van Dyke.”
Owen Gleiberman (Variety)
“John Cameron Mitchell brings out the worst in Neil Gaiman (or is it the other way around?) in a lifeless punk-meets-alien romance… it’s the biggest dud I’ve seen at this year’s Cannes Film Festival… Elle Fanning is a promising actress, but she should start growing wary of being typecast as a space cadet with royal cheekbones. Alex Sharp is a friendly, engaging young actor, but Enn, as written, is a one-note character. Hardly anyone else in the movie even rises to one note. It’s possible that Mitchell was drawn to adapting Gaiman’s short story because the fussy, befuddling cosmology of the film’s color-coordinated alien colonies echoed, for him, the elaborately absurd backstory of Hedwig. Sorry, but cosmology — plus eye-catching designer S&M latex — does not add up to a movie. “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” should have been called How to Talk to an Alien Girl Who Just Sits There.”
Best Kidman shout-out: “… a local band managed by Boadicea (Nicole Kidman, looking too refined for her surroundings)…”
Gregory Ellwood (Collider)
“Cameron Mitchell has fashioned a screenplay that mistakenly gets bogged down in the tourist’s philosophies and general mumbo jumbo, so much so that you don’t really care what they do. And that’s despite the best efforts of actors like Ruth Wilson, Matt Lucas (almost unrecognizable) and Tom Brooke doing everything they can to infuse real characters in these parent-teachers. The film’s climax also hinges on a barely earned emotional connection between Enn and Zan that causes the final third of the film to fall almost completely flat… The biggest disappointment is that despite Cameron Mitchell’s efforts the entire endeavor seems strangely familiar. In theory, this is a movie that would have opened people’s eyes and even ruffled some feathers fifteen or twenty years ago. Today, it feels playfully stale in the current cinematic landscape. The cinematic energy that permeated the screen in both Hedwig and its follow-up, the oft-forgotten Shortbus, is completely missing here. It makes you wonder: is it the subject matter, Cameron Mitchell aesthetic, or both that is to blame?”
Best Kidman shout-out: “… Nicole Kidman [is] dragged up and having a blast… Kidman and Wilson’s characters have one particular showdown that Cameron Mitchell mines so wonderfully you wish they had more screen time. And Cameron Mitchell and costume designer Sandy Powell collaborate for some unique vinyl looks that are simply to striking to forget.”