Saturday, March 14, 2015
First impressions matter. My first impression of Jennifer (Leelee Sobieski) is that director Christine Lahti is overplaying the quirky aspect of this troubled teenager's persona: too many piercings, too much black leather. Too much focus on trying to make her the sort of person who leaves a bad first impression. My first impression of the story was that the voice-over by J (as she likes to be called) goes on a little too long, making her into a caricature of the self-destructive teen.
But it gets better when she meets Randall (Albert Brooks), the straight-laced manager of a men's clothing store in the local mall. For some reason, he challenges her to shed some of the metal and come back for a job. She does, and so begins a story that slowly draws you in. He's 49, she's 17. He's withdrawn and cold. She's self-absorbed and inconsiderate. But though they have little in common, there's a lot these two damaged souls can learn from each other.
My First Mister is far from a perfect tale. There are nicely done vignettes as Randall gives Jennifer some adult advice about swearing, about respect, about music. And later as she gives him tips on how to loosen up. But sometimes the story dips into goofy territory. J's mother is just too over-the-top ditzy. Having J imagine distorted faces on the people she despises seems gratuitous, as if there was a small special-effects budget that the filmmakers felt obligated to spend. There's an outlandish encounter with a tattoo artist.
Where will this all lead? Into forbidden territory? When the story takes an unexpected turn — and you knew there would be an unexpected turn — the foolishness disappears, replaced by a slightly overwrought earnestness and too much clarity about how this story will end.
But the imperfections are nothing you can't look past. My first impression of My First Mister was that it could turn out to be a hidden gem of quirky comedy. Alas, not quite. But the performances by Brooks and Sobieski were consistently fine, and well worth watching.