Three British teenage girls go on a rites-of-passage holiday—drinking, clubbing and hooking up, in what should be the best summer of their lives.
Cambridge Film Festival 2023: Film #13
As I never went on these kinds of holidays as a teenager, How to Have Sex lacks the frisson of personal recognition that others are clearly experiencing… yet it doesn't lack a definite sense of verisimilitude. Full of nice touches such as Tara coming to a big personal realisation within, of all places, the airport Duty Free section (and of course they are flying back via the worst 'London' airport — London Luton), the acting goes a long way to mask that the screenplay, in the broadest strokes at least, follows the usual pattern of films that portray a woman on holiday, who, motivated by internal and external pressure to 'put herself out there', is inveigled by a guy into a situation that, on the face of it, is supericially ambiguous with regards to consent.
Pushing the quesion about whether she consented or not to one side (the 'answer' is pretty obvious to me, and, in fact, feels a little cheap of the film to generate 'debate' in this way), this story is perhaps only a cliché because it is, in the abstract, a commonplace enough tale regardless of whether you are on holiday or not. The real open question is that, if culture and society back in on the UK mainland was more pleasant and less regressive whether there would be such a manic drive to 'let your hair down' in Europe to begin with.
Peter Bradshaw ends his positive review of the film claiming that "this is an interestingly unsentimental film, without the coming-of-age cliches, and one from which the three leads emerge stronger and happier than before." He's certainly right about the first two things, but is it really true that they come out stronger and happier? Indeed, one of the more interesting things about this film for me was that they clearly do not.
Tara is held back from asking for help by social barriers that forbid sharing any discomfort, or even suffering, because it harshes the vibe for everyone else. A good alternate title for How to Have Sex would have been How to Bury Your Pain to Keep the Party Going. Even if you aren’t a victim of sexual assault, suffering in silence to keep others happy is a universal experience.
— Katarina Docalovich (Paste Magazine)