Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. The First Time was a risky flick for me as a fest-goer. Sold as an awkward coming of age romance starring two TV actors… well, like I said it was a risky one. Sometimes they pay off, sometimes you just wanna put a gun in your mouth.
The First Time was one of the ones that paid off, thank the movie gods. Director Jonathan Kasdan did good work with the charming, but imperfect In The Land of Women, again with a cast that wouldn’t have sold me by themselves, so I knew going in that even though I didn’t know the cast Kasdan has a track record of bringing out surprisingly good performances.
The story isn’t the draw here. You’ve seen it before. Two high school kids randomly meet and sparks fly. What makes The First Time work is the attention to the characters and the time dedicated to not making them the cookie-cutter caricatures that you expect from these kinds of movies.
Dylan O’Brien is the handsome, awkward hopelessly romantic virgin and Britt Robertson is the adorable, independent, but cynical alt. rock chick, but the movie introduces them in these roles only to immediately move past it in a 10 minute long getting-to-know-you conversation in an alley as a house party rages. The movie starts with this, cuts right to the meat. Robertson interrupts O’Brien as he’s rehearsing a speech he’s going to give to the girl he loves. This random encounter turns into a night that will make every hopeless romantic (like yours truly) sigh happily.
Both characters are just cute and they’re stupidly cute together. O’Brien does the impossible and makes me forget that in real life he’d never be the awkward guy that needs to work hard at getting women. Robertson is able to express that independent vulnerability without feeling like she’s the girl who needs to be “fixed” by the guy.
In past reviews I’ve discussed my very simple rule in how romantic comedies can win me over. I need to fall in love with the girl. I’m not hard to win over, but I gotta be able to see the girl through the guy’s eyes. I need to love her as much as he does or I’m not invested.
I never really considered that the same must be true from the girl’s perspective, but I have to imagine my theory works that way as well. I can say for sure from a guy’s perspective that it’s easy to fall in love with Britt Robertson’s Aubrey Miller. I can’t speak so much from a female perspective on Dylan O’Brien’s Dave Hodgman, but I will say he’s pretty much the guy most of us awkward geeks could be. Nice, in touch with his emotions, good looking but not arrogant, funny, responsible. Us geeks could do a whole lotta damage if that was our regular persona.
The romance is sweet and innocent, but complicated. She has a douchebag boyfriend and he is still fostering this obsession about the hot girl who is a friend (but not girlfriend), so the real test of their feelings comes in just how far they’re willing to let their attraction go. You’re just waiting for the breaking point, which adds an unexpected layer of suspense to the story.
That’s the heavy underpinnings, but Kasdan smartly keeps the focus on his leads' chemistry punctuated with smart character humor as they shyly test the fences of this budding romance.
There’s a great supporting cast, too. It makes me feel really damn old that Christine Taylor is playing a mother now, by the way. She’s Aubrey’s mother in this film and all I could do was keep flashing back to the ridiculous crush I had on her watching Hey Dude as a kid. This parental couple really reminded me of Emma Stone’s parents in Easy A, one of the aspects that really made that film stand out, by the way. Christine Taylor and Joshua Malina are natural, easygoing and extremely likeable together and give the movie a boost every time they’re on the screen.
It’s also really good to see Submarine’s Craig Roberts show up as O’Brien’s good friend always ready to dish out the worst possible advice ever. O’Brien’s circle is actually more of a triangle. You have his weird, pervy English buddy (Roberts) and Lamarcus Tinker’s quiet, gentle giant of a man that goes by the name Big Corporation. More welcome comedy relief that keeps the weighty elements of the romance from becoming too sappy.
All in all, The First Time is just a very well balanced picture. It strikes a consistent tone that captures the thrill and fear of a budding romance, with the joyous sense of adventure as the game is afoot.
Charming is a good word for this movie. Everything about it is just so damn likeable. How it can hook you in to a teenage romance without turning it into a sappy melodrama is something I can’t explain, but I’m really glad Kasdan’s out there pouring his heart and soul (and, I must add, anxiety) into the world.
I’ve rambled long enough. I’m smitten with this flick, count it among my favorites of the fest, wish it all the best and hope to add it to my Blu-Ray collection in the near future. Now I sleeeeeeeeeeeeeppppp.