Review by Sean Boelman
Often, a good director can make a lot out of a mediocre script, but also there are times in which uneven direction can weigh down solid writing. Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp’s feature debut First Date is a charming film, but its inconsistent visual style holds it back from reaching greater heights.
The film follows a teenage boy whose first date with his crush goes awry when he buys a sketchy old sedan from a creep and finds himself being chased by drug dealers, the cops, and a woman with a vendetta against him. The story is definitely very hyperactive, but that energy is part of what makes it work so well.
That said, the tone of the film is a bit inconsistent, and that prevents it from having its maximum impact. Much of the film is a lighthearted coming-of-age tale cum action-comedy, but then there are some more somber flashes that imply it wants to be a thriller with more serious stakes, and Crosby and Knapp fail to find a satisfying balance between the two.
Although the protagonist is a charming hero, a lot of the other characters are written very shallowly. His love interest is given a minimal backstory, and it’s frustrating to see such a potentially interesting role become so reductive. And both of the main antagonists are stock characters in the worst sense of the word.
However, at a certain point, it becomes clear that there are too many characters in play. Some of most entertaining characters in the film are secondary or tertiary antagonists that don’t do much in terms of pushing the plot along, but pop up in comedic ways. What makes it so frustrating is that these characters are far more interesting than the main cast.
The ensemble is charming enough, their performances paying homage to the hammy B-movies to which this film obviously owes so much inspiration. Newcomer Tyson Brown is definitely the standout, having a very charming screen presence about him that is ultimately the driving force in the film.
Crosby and Knapp’s style in shooting the film also could have been a lot steadier. There is a clear retro influence to a lot of it, but the film is fundamentally set in the modern day. In fact, the only thing that is really consistent about the film is its indecisiveness, as it seems to be trying to do everything without doing any one thing particularly well.
First Date is mostly enjoyable for what it is, but the issue comes in with the fact that it seemingly can’t decide what that should be. It’s likely that the mostly strong script is what got this into Sundance, because otherwise, it’s rather unexceptional.
First Date is screening at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival which runs virtually from January 28-February 3, 2021.