‘First Date’ is a silly, confounding entry in the awkward teen comedy genre

REVIEW: Even with its constantly rotating cast of characters, all of which are underdrawn and indecipherable, and its progressively madcap plot, 'First Date' is a weak entry into the genre

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We’ve seen it before. The shy, doe-eyed teenage boy that is awkwardly pulled into a whole host of hijinks as he secretly pines for the girl who barely even know he exists. Think Michael Cera in Superbad or, well, many of his other movies. Or the young boys on Freak and Geeks. It’s an age-old shtick that Hollywood has long adored. And now, writers-directors Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp are cashing in on it with their film, First Date. Trouble is, they strike out. 

It happens almost immediately in the film. Premiering at Sundance this year, First Date subverts the typical white male protagonist with their star Tyson Brown as Mike, a terribly shy adolescent living in suburbia who, at the encouragement of his polar opposite friend, Brett (Josh Fesler), asks out his crush, Kelsey (Shelby Duclos). Surprisingly, because the two characters—as well as the actors—have very little chemistry even over the phone, she says yes. But just when Mike begins to count his lucky stars, Brett brings him right back down to earth: he has no car in which to take her out. 

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As most kids do, Mike turns to his fun-loving parents (Keldamusik and NJ Brown, who are hilarious but hardly appear in the movie) to borrow their car, but they already have plans to use it. You would think that, presumably if First Date takes place in present day (it is too nondescript to tell either way), Mike would just hop in an Uber and pick up Shelby—and probably concluded the movie before it really begins. But no, it becomes a whole thing, and unfortunately, the entire premise of this film. 

Upon, as you might have you guessed, Brett’s advice, Mike borrows a car from Dennis (Scott E. Noble), an obviously shady man who is way too confident that a teenage boy would unironically be interested in a 1965 Chrysler–that looks like something not even his parents, the hipsters that they are, would look at.

And it doesn’t look like something that would impress Shelby, which is the whole point here. It’s hard to tell whether Brown is just playing it extremely cool, or if Mike is actually oblivious to the apparent fraud in front of him, but he accepts the offer for $2,700 (which he totally could have used to rent a nicer car for the night, to be honest). And shenanigans ensue. 

Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

But man, are they ridiculous—and not in the over-the-top way you expect and appreciate from the genre. Rather, it’s increasingly absurd. This raggedy car has drug stashed in it, which of course upsets (to put it lightly) the hotheaded dealers that are after it. They’re not the only ones keeping Mike from having a great time with Shelby that night. Oddly enough, there are several people invested in the giant lump of metal, including an older couple with nostalgia and a couple of crooked cops. But even as the crazy night escalates, Mike barely bats an eyelash. 

You would almost think he somehow anticipates this happening because of the way Brown plays it. Mike is apathetic, almost aloof at times and completely unfazed by the fact that, for instance, strangers just want to ride in his backseat for the memories. And he actually obliges!

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While Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp may have decided Mike’s insouciance would play well against the wacky characters that intervene on his way to Shelby’s, Brown’s dull portrayal actually makes every punchline fall flat. It’s hard to root for Mike, mostly because he brings a lot of what happens to him on himself, and you also just don’t care about what happens to him. Because he doesn’t seem to either. 

Even with its constantly rotating cast of characters, all of which are underdrawn and indecipherable, and its progressively madcap plot, First Date is a weak entry in a genre that is at its best when the comedy is sharp, well written, and more thoughtful. The film ultimately has no point. And even though, the protagonist’s main objective is clear from the start, you become less interested in whether he gets the girl either way. That’s because they seem like a miscast couple, and the effort it takes to get through everything that precedes that moment is just not worth it.   

Silly, empty, and entirely perplexing, First Date never really hits it off with its audience.   

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