Elle Fanning is an alien who falls for a punk-rock kid in south London in this farcical romance that is never sure what it is trying to be

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A commentary on the early punk-rock scene, a fractured look at humankind through the eyes of other beings, a touching inter-species love story: the scattered "How to Talk to Girls at Parties" is at once all of these things and none of these things, since it is too unfocused to find a point and make it.

Director John Cameron Mitchell ("Hedwig and the Angry Inch") seems like exactly the right person to bring Neil Gaiman's 2006 short story to life. But he's trapped between making an earnest love story and a farce, and "How to Talk to Girls" never finds its footing or figures out what it's trying to be. 

Alex Sharp plays Enn, a punk rock kid trying to find his way through the late-'70s punk scene in Croydon, a town in south London. He and his friends are like a leather jacket and studded collar version of "Superbad," with one-track minds set on getting laid. One night they happen upon a party that's more than they bargained for, where a group of outsiders invite them to mingle. Or at least they look like mere outsiders: turns out they're an alien colony studying earthlings for data. 

One of these alien beings, Zan (the ace Elle Fanning), takes a liking to Enn; after he cuts up her dress, she orders him, "do more punk to me." Enn never quite picks up on the fact that she's an alien -- he figures she's just from California -- or he doesn't care. He's too enraptured by the attention she gives him. 

And so it goes. "How to Talk to Girls" plays as a gender-flip on "Earth Girls Are Easy" crossed with the youthful musical romance of "Sing Street." Mitchell brings a lively visual sensibility to the screen, so at least it looks stellar. Everything else -- the film's tone, its message, its very purpose -- is caught between two different worlds.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

@grahamorama

'How to Talk to Girls at Parties'

GRADE: C-

Rated R for language throughout, sexual content, some drug use and nudity

Running time: 103 minutes

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