My First Mister

For whatever reason, filmmakers love romance between the older man and the younger women. Just look at any Woody Allen movie. So it's refreshing when a January December relationship is not played for cheap thrills and remains ambiguous, as it does in My First Mister. Maybe because the writer and director are both women, who, presumably are tired of seeing these formula pictures and want to make something better. This is definitely something better, at least for the first two-thirds. My First Mister follows the relationship between seventeen year old Jennifer (or J as she prefers) and forty-nine year old Randall (or R as she prefers to call him). Jennifer is a depressed, lonely, goth girl replete with piercings, heavy eyeliner, and the prerequisite black clothing. Randall owns a men's fashion store in the mall, and is the essence of boring.

What both do not realize is that they are similar. Both do not have many friends. They share a sharp wit and intelligence that hides behind their very different exteriors. Jennifer (Leelee Sobieski, The Glass House, Here on Earth) is looking for a job when she sees Randall's (Albert Brooks, The Muse, Out of Sight) store. His initial reaction is horror, but agrees to let her work there if she changes the way she dresses. Working together gives them a chance to get to know each other, and director Christine Lahti (who won an Oscar for the short Lieberman in Love) and writer Jill Franklyn (It's Like, You Know...) do a wonderful job of not quite defining the friendship. Jennifer and Randall's relationship hesitatingly moves between one of deep mutual friendship, father/daughter love, and near sexual intimacy. Most of the last of the last one is played for laughs, especially on the part of Brooks.

Most of what makes My First Mister good is the interplay between Sobieski and Brooks. Their characters are polar opposites (sometimes a little too opposite, but hey, that's the point, right?) and have no idea how to act around each other. Both are unaccustomed to even having friends, so each person has their guard up considerably around the other. Once they realize that they can become friends, they begin to let their guard down. Brook's brings his usual, complaining, neurotic self to the role. Sobieski gives a dour, sarcastic performance, which is a nice change for her and proves that she can break through her recent string of bad films. She definitely looks the goth part, although the script doesn't necessarily give her the attitude. For her first time directing a feature length motion picture, Lahti is able to ably concentrate on what is important; the characters.

Then, Franklyn's script takes a turn for the worse. She inserts an event that turns My First Mister into a sappy tearjerker designed to tug emotions and make people cry. The revelation derails any sense of structure the story had, taking away a complex relationship between two people and reducing it to something much less. It takes a while, but eventually the story begins to regain a sense of momentum. However, this last third feels like a different movie. Gone is the sense of discovery, the joy of two people getting to know each other deeply as friends. Familiar and tired storytelling replaces the initial spirit of originality and uncertainty. By the end, My First Mister redeems itself, but all along one wonders what would have happened had it kept its original course.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 48 minutes, Rated PG-13 for language and some sexual material.

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