Ah, young love. There’s nothing like quite it, when it’s all so exciting and new. Watching such a coming-of-age story play out on the big screen can be rewarding - if you can connect with the characters and empathise with their story. ‘First Girl I Loved’ is a teenage love story with a twist – but is it enough to elevate the film above mediocrity?
Anne (Dylan Gelula, ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’) has fallen in love – to Sasha (Brianna Hildebrand, ‘Deadpool’), a girl from her school. Anne manoeuvres her way into Sasha’s life, and they soon become close friends. When Anne tells her best friend Clifton (Mateo Arias, TV’s ‘Kickin’ It’) that she likes Sasha, he doesn’t take it well – partly because he’s always had a thing for Anne. The more Anne and Sasha grow closer and become more intimate, the more they risk their relationship being revealed to the entire school.
Gelula and Hildebrand have a great dynamic, with very natural performances and alluring charismas. What works best in the film is when they’re getting to know each other, and testing the water for each other’s limits. Hildebrand, in particular, has a brilliant presence on screen, proving to be a captivating new talent. It’s also great to see the ever-brilliant Pamela Adlon (TV’s ‘Californication’, ‘Better Things’ and ‘Bob’s Burgers’) as Anne’s mum, even if she is criminially underutilised.
What becomes problematic, however, is the second act of the film, when the script’s initial clarity is disturbed, and motives become unclear, leaving the talents of the two young leads to support the story. The movie’s middle sags substantially, with serious issues from awkward pacing and frequent stagnation. It also relies on often undeterminable flashbacks to get us through the story, many of which are unnecessary due to their predictability. For its 90 minute running time, 15 to 20 minutes could have easily been trimmed off to keep the film more engaging.
The second act of the film, when the script’s initial clarity is disturbed, and motives become unclear, leaves the talents of the two young leads to support the story.
Writer/director Kerem Sanga (‘The Young Kieslowski’, ‘Trigger Finger’) and cinematographer Ricardo Diaz were clearly working with a small budget, and the spectrum of shots range from beautiful slomo close-ups to breakneck handheld work. There are some unpalatable scenes in the school hall with Anne and her mum, with excessively blown-out backgrounds from exterior light. It’s definitely a mixed bag as far as satisfying cinematography goes.
Just when you’re unsure where it’s all going, ‘First Girl I Loved’ ends very suddenly. While it’s great to see LGBT characters portrayed in cinema, it’s disappointing that they should be represented by a film with such an unsatisfactory second half, and ultimately with nothing to say about the situations of the characters. What starts with such potential goes off the rails so quickly, and these characters we initially invest in soon dissolve into an unrecognisable disarray. If only the script had been more developed.