Sundance Review: The First Time


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So, there’s this teen comedy about sex. Oh wait, every teen comedy is about sex, isn’t it?

While The First Time stays true to its title, it is a success because of the dialogues that take place beyond the bedroom. This isn’t a quirky film. This isn’t a sex-obsessed film. What it is, is a film by a guy who wrote episodes for both Dawson’s Creek and Freaks & Geeks and, boy, does it show. I mean that in a good way. A really, really good way.

The First Time
Director: Jon Kasdan
Rating: NR
Release Date: TBA

At the start, The First Time is like if Woody Allen remade Can’t Hardly Wait (an all-time favorite of mine). Dave Hodgman (Dylan O’Brien) is an awkward and unfairly handsome virgin who is talking to himself in a dark alley, reciting his love letter to high school crush/slut Jane. If it hurts to watch, it’s because you’ve been there before. What you didn’t have — OK, what I didn’t have — is the lovely Aubrey Miller approach me.

Aubrey (Britt Robertson) is the girl Dave wants but he just doesn’t know it yet. She’s everything he’s not: bold, culturally informed, and cool as shit. She’s witty like Juno without the obnoxiousness and speaks with the clip and charm of Kristen Bell in Veronica Mars. The first fifteen minutes of the film are shocking. No, a hardcore sex scene doesn’t occur. Instead, we have a consistently charming and funny dialogue between the two. It feels like an entire film takes place in that alley, or at least one could have. It sets up the film so wonderfully. I can’t think of another teen film that has the courage to open in such a fashion.

The rest of the film plays out like a traditional teen romantic-comedy. The two want each other, but they also don’t know what to do with the relationships they are currently in. Dave has two hilarious side-kicks, Aubrey has awesome parents, and the film never introduces a character that doesn’t justify their existence with either an important plot line or memorable quote. Craig Roberts (Submarine) gives particularly memorable performance as Adam’s best friend.

The film may be safe in its material, but it is also very raw, emotional, and extremely well written. It revives a genre without any gimmickry — this is pure craft. It’s so easy to deal with teenage angst, romance, and culture in broad strokes that alienate older audiences, but that is never the case with The First Time. Aubrey discusses music with insight, the two discuss relationships with an honest awkwardness, and when they are funny they are funny in ways that never goes against the reality of the character.

The film is an absolute joy of a romantic comedy that is full of terrific performances and dialogue. It hits all the predictable beats but it takes its time getting there and handles it all with heart and honesty missing from similar films coming out of Hollywood. It reminds you what it’s like to be young again. Unlike recent Hollywood fare, it doesn’t bother with working in social media into the script or throwing in wacky characters for laughs. This is a timeless love story that doesn’t ride on a wave of nostalgia or trend. It succeeds because it is courageous and pure at heart.