Sundance 2012 Review: THE FIRST TIME


Jonathan Kasdan's sophomore film The First Time is an enchanting story of young love aimed squarely at millenials, but its comical dialogue and cheerful tone give it much broader appeal. Similar to last year's Like Crazy, this movie can conjure desire for first love among younger crowds and nostalgia for it in older audiences.

Dave (Dylan O'Brien) is a senior in high school hung up on Jane (Victoria Justice), the girl he's been crushing on for years. Outside the type of lavish, extravagant party that only appear in high school sex comedies, Dave meets Aubrey (Britt Robertson), a junior from another school who catches him rehearsing an embarassing speech as he's about to profess his love for Jane. In the film's long opening scene, the two strike up a conversation that lays the groundwork for their entire relationship, building up to a "will they, won't they" surrounding their first times having sex.

The movie is undoubtedly a teen sex comedy, and in the wave of post-Superbad films that fill the genre, it can be tough to separate one film from others in the pack. The First Time stands out thanks to excellent performances from its leads, Britt Robertson and Dylan O'Brien. Robertson is magnetic, a beautiful actress who imbues her character with a sense of realism that makes her all the more likeable. Manic Pixie Dream Girl she is not; she feels like someone you knew in high school. This is star-making work from her, and though she's been around in the TV world for a few years, with a performance as compelling as this one I can't imagine a successful film career being too far away. O'Brien is also enjoyable, playing a guy who has seen too many romantic movies and who believes all of the lovey dovey stuff that goes along with them.

Secondary characters, including Craig Robertson (who was excellent in last year's Submarine), fill out the standard best friend roles, and there's even the Wise Younger Sister character so often found in this genre to help Dave get the girl. But instead of being in junior high or something, the sister is only five or six years old - comically young to fit the archetype. Writer/director Kasdan has seen enough of these types of films to be aware of the cliche, so he adds a little variation in there to switch things up for the audience. There are long scenes of nothing but dialogue, but the characters have so much charisma that it's easy to forgive any moments that still feel rote.

I think The First Time will be for this generation what Can't Hardly Wait was to mine: a plausible examination of growing up through a series of parties, emotions, confessions, and infatuation. It's a harmless film with legitimately adorable moments, and ultimately The First Time was just as alluring to me as the main characters were to each other.

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