January 28, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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THE FIRST TIME may be too lovable for its own good.  Jonathan Kasdan’s teen romance, which premiered in the Dramatic Competition at Sundance, couldn’t be more straightforward:  in its opening minutes, it introduces the adorable Dave (Dylan O’Brien) and Aubrey (Britt Robertson), two hyper-articulate sweethearts who meet outside a suburban LA party neither of them particularly wants to attend, and who chat at length as though they’re in a magical moment with the rest of the world in suspended animation around them.  The movie then follows them over the course of the next few days as they gradually acknowledge what we realized instantly, that they’re utterly made for each other.

The model, of course, is the John Hughes canon, Hughes having become the J.D. Salinger of 21st Century coming-of-age sagas.  In this case, it’s a dash of Some Kind of Wonderful with a pinch of The Breakfast Club‘s loquaciousness, along with some other post-Hughesians, notably the Kevin Williamson of Dawson’s Creek days and the Robert Iscove/R.Lee Fleming She’s All That, as well as (although he might not consider himself a Hughesian) Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise/Before Sunset duo.

Dave and Aubrey really are charming, and listening to them rattle off smart, stuttering dialogue is all kinds of fun.  In his eagerness to bring them together, though, Kasdan fails to come up with much of a conflict to keep them apart.  Hughes himself was strongly aware of the way class figures into high school, and that’s a critical undercurrent that often threatens the relationships in his films.  In The First Time, even the competing romantic interests for our hero and heroine are straw people, clearly vapid and unworthy, and the only obstacle Kasdan can think of to put in the couple’s way is some unpromising sex (not really spoiler alert territory, given the title of the movie).  The result is a story that feels thin to the point of invisibility, and a romance that can sometimes feel like an exercise.

The First Time creates plenty of rooting interest, but little opportunity to root.  It’s extremely pleasant to watch, anchored by Robertson and O’Brien (both CW veterans), and with good supporting work from Craig Roberts (from Submarine, a much more textured teen romance [that nobody went to see]), Victoria Justice, and token adults Josh Malina and Christine Taylor.  There’s also lovely photography by Rhet Bear, and special note is due for collages supposedly created by Aubrey, which manage to be impressive but also believably teen-like.  The movie’s very weightlessness, however, ultimately weighs it down–having no real surprises or tension, it feels anecdotal and unmemorable.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."