THE FIRST GIRL I LOVED gets 5/10 School’s Out

Directed by Kerem Sanga
Starring Dylan Gelula, Brianna Hilderbrand, Mateo Arias

5/10

When Anne (Dylan Gelula) tries to admit to a male friend (Mateo Arias) that she has romantic feelings for another girl at school, Sasha (Brianna Hildebrand), she sets in motion a series of events that will shake up her life. Not only does she have to come to terms with her own sexuality, but she has to decide if her crush has feelings for her. All set within the usual minefield that is high school.

This is certainly a case of the subject matter being greater than the execution. The First Girl I Loved is let down by some forced dialogue, and a poor structure. The result at times feels closer to an after school special episode of Degrassi High than an independent film.

Which is a shame as there is a lot to like here. Both Gelula (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) and Hildebrand (Deadpool) have a lot of on screen charisma, and their characters’ blossoming romance is genuinely sweet. By contrast Arias’ Martinez might appearĀ a relatively selfish character, but at least has understandable (if certainly not admirable) motivation.

Then there is what the film says about the nature of discrimination. It demonstrates a level of homophobia in society that is beneath the surface, and an attitude to acceptance that can often be lip service rather than genuine. So often it appears a personal exercise of political correctness from many of the authority characters, rather than an actual stance on equality.

For all these noble ideas, the film’s failure really does all come down to execution. The dialogue attempts naturalism, and only highlights it’s own artificiality. Ironically, perhaps the best stings of dialogue in the film are the text exchanges between Anne and Sasha. These at least have a natural rhythm, a clear ebb and flow that sounds real. In comparison, the rest feels stilted and awkward. Doubly so when coming from an authority figure, or attempting to convey the message of the film.

The structure also does The First Girl I Loved no favours. The tale frequently returns to a number of pivotal points in the film, breaking the narrative into a rather disjointed flow. If it was to return merely to one central point (highlighting the importance of that), perhaps the device would be more successful. Or if it was to break the chronological order in an interesting way, perhaps that would work as well. Instead the film withholds information, arguably not for dramatic purpose, or even to highlight storytelling, but more in an attempt to be profound. The result is instead jarring, and at times confusing.

All of which makes for a twee message film that is just a little too unfocused in what it attempts to say. Despite its noble intentions The First Girl I Loved barely manages to get itself across the line.

DAVID O’CONNELL

 

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