Monday, October 15, 2012

A younger Kasdan really makes it look, sound and feel like THE FIRST TIME

In the coming-of-age genre, that ever-popular sub-division of "losing it" gets a brand new go-round this week from an up-and-coming member of what used to be one of Hollywood's near-royal families, the Kasdans.  Dad Lawrence has the lengthiest resume (from Body Heat and The Big Chill to the recent Darling Companion) and mom Meg a lesser one (but then I imagine that she did the mothering, and maybe some career sacrificing along the way); bro Jake has some funny, under-seen films like Walk Hard and Orange County to his credit), while uncle Mark wrote Criminal Law and co-wrote Silverado. Now Lawrence and Meg's son Jonathan Kasdan, shown below, who a few years back gave us the interesting and well-cast In the Land of Women, is back with the movie under consideration here and titled -- perhaps in not terribly original fashion, as there have been at least 15 other films that used this exact name -- THE FIRST TIME.

However, though the title and subject (teens falling in love and approaching a sexual encounter) are not new, Kasdan fils' interpretation of this subject actually is because it goes for character over situation, while acknowledging the strictures of the genre, as well as those of the peer group to whom these kids belong. As writer/director, Kasdan has cast his film well (using Anya Colloff and Amy McIntyre Britt) with lead actors who, while attractive enough, are not so drop-dead gorgeous that we refuse to believe that they would, even for a moment, have trouble connecting with anyone they might choose.

The two performers in the leading roles, Dylan O'Brien  (below) and Britt Robertson (above) are also good enough actors that they bring us into their confusion and hope, which allows us to put up with some of their dumber choices. They're kids, after all. And they seem like kids, rather than the approaching-30 types we sometimes get in these would-be teen flicks.

Furthermore, the kids they're surrounded with, while hewing to the more-or-less standard model these movies offer, still manage to impress as singularly nerdy (Craig Roberts of Submarine, shown center), weighty (Lamarcus Tinker, center, right ) or pretty (the quite beautiful Victoria Justice, (shown at left in the penultimate photo below), as well as having a little something more to offer. Each of these characters/performers is given his/her chance to shine for a sudden, splendid moment or two. And they do.

But it remains for our two leads to carry the movie, and they do, too, thanks in good part to how well they handle the lovely, real dialog that Kasdan has given them. This is kids' chatter, all right, flecked with self-deprecating humor and only slightly buried feelings. Consequently, it's charming, funny and a little embarras-sing, as it should be, watching them fumble their way to connection.

Also quite special is how the filmmaker and his cast handle the final, tricky section of the movie. To talk much here would court spoilers, so I'll just note how very far we've come from the likes of Splendor in the Grass. This is a slight film, no doubt about it, so I don't want to overpraise. But young Kasdan, in giving us characters we care about, really does make this look, sound and feel like "the first time." And that's pretty wonderful.

The movie, from Samuel Goldwyn Films, opens this Friday, in New York (at the AMC Loews Village 7 and the AMC Empire 25), in Los Angeles (at the AMC Burbank Town Center 8) in Orange County at the AMC Orange 30) and all over Arizona (the state, I believe, in which The First Time was filmed). Click here to see the many Arizona playdates, with cities and theaters listed.

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