Review by Sean Boelman
There is a tricky line to tread for filmmakers who want to make a movie about their own story, but Cecilia Aldarondo has managed to do so wonderfully with her sophomore feature You Were My First Boyfriend. Hilarious and profound, You Were My First Boyfriend keeps developing in a way that challenges the viewer to reflect on their own past and emotions.
In the movie, filmmaker Cecilia Aldarondo’s trip to her high school reunion causes her to go on an internal journey in which she reflects on her adolescence and all of the pain and joy she experienced within it. It’s equal parts funny, sad, and contemplative in a way that feels entirely natural and surprisingly necessary.
There are plenty of comparisons that can be made in terms of documentaries in which the filmmaker is reflecting on their childhood, but Aldarondo’s approach is more creative than any of them. In the tradition of so many movies that have experimented with the nonfiction form in the past decade, Aldarondo has created a film that blurs the lines between reality and fiction.
Aldarondo explores her trauma in a way that is unflinchingly personal and intimate. It’s the type of movie that is likely to be triggering for many viewers, not because it is offensive, but because it explores things that many of us will have experienced in our own lives. In her own journey, Aldarondo encourages viewers to engage with their pasts in a way that allows us to have a more healthy relationship with who we are.
One of the most impressive things about Aldarndo’s approach is how she avoids pointing fingers. Although many films about these themes would normally point fingers at bullies or be overly self-loathing, Aldarondo avoids these pitfalls. Instead, she interrogates the social structure that enabled these toxic personalities to thrive in a setting that should be safe and nurturing.
While movies that heavily utilize reenactments can be hit-or-miss, Aldarondo and Sarah Enid Hagey’s approach is so innovative that it avoids feeling gimmicky. Young actors are hired to play Aldarondo’s classmates, but Aldarondo plays herself, creating an interesting dynamic that makes it feel like Aldarondo is not only reflecting upon but genuinely engaging with her past.
There are also some stylistic quirks throughout the film that are very ambitious and pay off quite well. For example, there is a sequence in which Aldarondo and her sister recreate the music video for Tori Amos’s song “Crucify.” Although it may not be *necessary* for the narrative, it’s quite well-done and creates a very playful tone.
You Were My First Boyfriend tells an extremely personal story, but the universality of its emotion allows the movie to stand out and be extraordinarily compelling. Cecilia Aldarondo’s vision of her past is hilarious and meaningful, making this an early contender for best documentary of the year.
You Were My First Boyfriend screened at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival, which runs March 10-18 in Austin, TX.