“The First Time” is the second feature film from writer-director Jon Kasdan—Lawrence’s son—and it has some good things going for it. The screenplay is well constructed, for one, and the film showcases clever-yet-believable dialogue and two young stars who are easy on the eyes and charismatic to boot.
Dylan O’Brien (“Teen Wolf”) and Britt Robertson (“The Secret Circle”) charm the audience as well as each other in this 2012 indie romantic comedy, which has one foot in the coming-of-age tradition and the other planted hesitantly in the subgenre of teen sex comedy.
If the stars are the sweet spot, that straddling of genres is really the film’s weak spot, because for me it raised questions of audience.
Adults are the prime audience for coming-of-age stories, which are treated from a more mature perspective and meant to evoke feelings of nostalgia (or faux nostalgia for experiences they themselves never had). Frame stories like “Stand by Me” stand out as prime examples. But teen sex comedies (think “Superbad”) are written about teens FOR teens, which means that the maturity level isn’t there, the focus is more on sex than romance, and the writing incorporates the word “Dude” into every other sentence.
On the one hand, “The First Time” has the slower pacing and cerebral bent of an indie dramedy like “Juno,” and it incorporates the kind of conceptual construction that any parent of teens would appreciate. Aubrey (Robertson) goes to parties but doesn’t get drunk and doesn’t allow herself to be used for sex sport the way so many girls do. Though her parents seem permissive and disconnected from her, she’s mature enough to make some good choices, like secretly having a glass of wine in her home instead of drinking at a party, or being in no hurry to have sexual intercourse despite obviously having the same sex drive as any other healthy teen.
Dave (O’Brien), meanwhile, is the quintessential nice guy who doesn’t force himself on a girl, isn’t full of himself, and seems considerate of and sensitive to a girl’s feelings. Though he’d like to bed his best friend (Disney Channel’s Victoria Justice) he won’t even hint at a relationship because he knows she isn’t into him. He doesn’t drink to excess, doesn’t accept a ride from people who’ve been drinking, and he does his best to try to protect the honor of a girl he likes when another guy (James Frecheville) brags how he’s going to bed her later that evening.
But there IS teen drinking, there IS teen partying, and there IS a scene where two teens attempting to do it for the first time pull out a condom and crawl under the covers. And in fact, that scene is pretty steamy, with Kasdan and his young actors managing to convey all the pent-up emotion and sexual desire of puberty that can erupt in a single night of barely controlled passion.
For me, “The First Time” felt like a film that might make adults uncomfortable in spots, and make teens squirm in other places. When the car of people who offered Dave and Aubrey a ride turns up later in a flashing-light mangled mess, it feels like one of those totaled vehicles that are towed onto high school and college campuses and parked alongside a D.A.R.E. police car to illustrate the dangers of drinking and driving. Often, “The First Time” feels like that kind of obvious cautionary tale aimed at getting teens to behave more responsibly when it comes to drinking and sex—not to abstain, mind you, but to use better judgment. At times, Dave and Aubrey seemed more like poster children than characters.
And the plot? We’ve seen it in countless romantic comedies. This particular boy and girl have their romantic comedy “meet cute” outside a party in an alley. In the tradition of screwball comedies, she’s the slightly flaky free-spirited one (it’s seldom the guy), and he’s that basic nice guy who’s a little reserved and tottering on the edge of being an outsider or being one of the cool people. Aubrey and Dave speak with the kind of clever dialogue that’s more common in movies than it is for real teens. That will be a plus for some viewers, and a minus for others.
“The First Time” is rated PG-13 for “mature thematic elements involving teen sexuality, partying, and language.” There’s no nudity, but implied lovemaking, and really very little offensive language, given that it’s a teen comedy . . . or is it meant for adults?
“The First Time” is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The level of detail is quite good for a DVD, with natural skin tones and colors and dark scenes that still allow you to pick out detail in the shadows.
The featured audio is an English Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English, English SDH, and French. No complaints here, but by the same token, nothing extraordinary to report.
There are no bonus features. Just an interminable amount of previews that you have to keep skipping to get to the main menu.
While “The First Time” seems to straddle audiences and while I personally find myself torn between scoring it a 6 out of 10 or a 7, I’m going to give it a seven because of the two stars. They’re so darned likable that they make the film’s shortcomings seem unimportant.