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Sundance 2021 Review: ‘First Date’

Sundance 2021 Review: ‘First Date’

First Date

Man, talk about some bad first date. 

Imagine you’re a teenager (because we’ve all been one). You live in a nice tract home neighborhood with your parents who are pretty cool and seem to have more fun than you do. You like the girl around the way and when she says she’ll go out with you, you’re so excited, and then you remember that you have no car and your cool parents are going away for the weekend, in the car. 

But your best bud thinks that shouldn’t get in the way so he makes an appointment online for you to go buy a used car with your savings (and a little of your dad’s petty stash). Of course the guy you buy it from looks cagey and the car is a jalopy but hey, you’ve got a date and that’s when all the fun starts. 

First Date is a dark comedy directed by Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp that falls a little in the vein of 2 Days in the Valley or even a lighter season of Fargo, both of which can start somewhat mundane but quickly change into problems that are anything but. 

In these types of stories, there’s always someone who innocently gets caught up in the hot mess of mayhem about to happen. And generally people get hurt — sometimes lots of people. 

In this case, our innocents are played by newcomers Tyson Brown and Shelby Duclos. Brown, as Mike, is so eager to take out Kelsey (Duclos) but gets detained by a series of events on his way to pick her up. They all seem to involve the old beat-up Chrysler car he’s bought. In short order, he’s getting shot at and the guy he bought the car from has mysteriously disappeared. 

Brown does a good job of portraying a teenager nonplussed by the things occurring around him. He also does a good poker face in just the right places. For example, his character makes some quick decisions while being questioned by police (Nicola Berry and Samuel Ademola) in one scene, but he never loses his wide-eyed innocent look. Later, the police provide a red herring or two as they encounter him several times during the evening. 

In fact there could be a few red herrings here if one were to count the motley crew of criminals (Ryan Quinn Adams, Angela Barber, Jesse Janzen, Jake Howard, Scott E. Noble) who seem to spend a great deal of screen time arguing over things that are not the least bit criminal. But there are hard things in First Date, too — incidents that force Kelsey and Mike to look at the fleeting nature of life if only during this wild misadventure. 

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Kelsey isn’t shy. In fact, she’s got a world-weariness about her that could only go with our young century. Unlike a dozen teen films where the cute girl always goes for the blonde jock, she’s having none of it and he lives next door. She’s smarter than that and she knows it. He knows it, too, but he hopes. 

Yep, the jock is pining for the girl and not the other way around. And don’t mess with her. Kelsey boxes and could probably beat the jock’s butt. She doesn’t like that her parents are in a state of constant annoyance or argument and she’s seemingly lonely. But she likes Mike, maybe because although shy, he is a regular guy with a naturally sweet disposition.

According to press information, Crosby and Knapp, who are also writers and producers of First Date, made a movie that was reminiscent of their teen days. The locale is definitely middle-class suburbia somewhere with hazy days and sparsely lit street lights that could be set in any decade from the 1970s to now.  

They also show that some things in the life of teens do not change, such as bike riding around the neighborhood, raiding their parent’s fridges for food, the uncertainty of dating, and trying to figure where they fit in along the way. It’s to the writers’ credit that they allow the two teen characters to never lose that youthful unerring sense of right and wrong and unassailable optimism.

By all accounts First Date was made out of sentiment and respect for the B-caper flicks that get those cult followings long after they’ve left the cinema. It’s worth a look if you are into this sort of thing. 

Noting that Dulcos is assistant director as well actor and that very few of the cast have had more than one or two credits, this is very much a small film with a capable cast doing their best in a classic genre.

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