Tuesday 1 November 2022

Erin's Guide to Kissing Girls (Julianna Notten, 2022)

The 30th Raindance Film Festival is currently underway in London, and there's a terrific programme in place for this milestone edition.  Festival strands include Debut, Homegrown, Screamdance, An Immigrant's Tale and Sonica, plus there are special screenings of a quartet of modern classics—Park Chan-wook's Oldboy, Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, Christopher Nolan's Memento, and Eduardo Sánchez and Daniel Myrick's The Blair Witch Project—each of which received its UK premiere at Raindance.  In addition to the many in-person Raindance screenings taking place across four London venues (the Genesis, Rio, Curzon Soho and Garden cinemas), there's a very decent online festival selection hosted by streaming service Bohemia Euphoria, who are offering both rentals of individual titles and a great-value festival pass (which includes every Raindance title on the platform).  

One of the titles included in the online bundle is Julianna Notten's thoroughly engaging feature debut Erin's Guide to Kissing Girls, which is based on Notten's 2018 short of the same name.  A coming-of-age tale revolving around three girls who are nearing the end of middle school, Notten's film boasts both fine production values and a trio of winning performances from its young leads.  What's especially refreshing about Erin's Guide to Kissing Girls is that at no point does its title character struggle with their sexuality; the confident Erin, played by newcomer Elliot Stocking, is clearly very comfortable with herself as she makes her way through the not-always-pleasant experience that is school.  While Erin faces several challenges over the course of the film, none of them involve her sexual identity.  Erin spends a lot of time with her best friend Liz (Jesyca Gu), a budding track star who has secured a place at an elite school specialising in athletics, and the pair while away their days discussing comic books and sniping about their classmates. 

Erin and Liz's situation, like much of Notten's film, feels cosy and familiar, but things start to change when new student Sydni (Rosali Annikie) joins their class.  The effortlessly cool and somewhat inscrutable Sydni, who generates much interest around the school on the basis that she was once a child star, soon catches the eye of Erin, who devises a plan to win the heart of the new girl—hence the film's title.  Whether her strategy is successful is another question entirely, as Erin's guide is one that has been fashioned primarily for its creator's own use, and she appears to have no prior experience of implementing the various steps involved.  As you might expect, Erin's romantic efforts leave less time in her life for Liz, and a schism appears between the two—although it should be pointed out that the cracks in the friendship were beginning to show as early as the moment when it was established that the girls would be attending different high schools (Erin has no interest in, nor any chance of, gaining entry to the private school for which Liz is headed).  

Yet despite the increasing tension between Liz and Erin, the latter remains dogged in her pursuit of Sydni, who appears ambivalent regarding the lavish attention she's receiving from her new admirer; that said, she does agree to accompany Erin to the upcoming school dance.  The story from this point on is fairly predictable, but that doesn't detract from what is a warm, humorous and charming slice of entertainment.  Of the three main actors, it is Gu who delivers the best performance as Liz, the loyal friend prone to moments of introspection that belie her wittily sarcastic demeanour.  But both Stocking and Annikie are very good, too, with their appealing performances a good fit for the overall sensibility of Notten's fine movie.  Whether Erin's Guide to Kissing Girls enjoys much play beyond the festival circuit is something that remains to be seen, but this good-natured and highly watchable film is certainly a very welcome addition to the coming-of-age canon.

Darren Arnold

Images: FilmFreeway