At Sundance 2021, I saw over 20 films (many of which have reviews forthcoming), but one of them wasn’t First Date. At the time, I just got done watching Land (which I don’t recommend you watch) when First Date premiered at the festival. Then, on the day that Sundance was offering a second screening, I was watching Together Together, Prisoners of the Ghostland (both films I recommend and will be reviewing soon), so I, unfortunately, didn’t have time to see First Date. So, when news came that Magnolia Pictures acquired the film, I was ecstatic. It was a perfect fit for the film. For those not in the know, Magnet Releasing is the “genre arm of Magnolia Pictures,” according to their website, and paired with Censor, which also premiered at Sundance 2021, it made for a (pardon the pun) killer lineup.
Hey Tony, I’ve been doing some thinking and I think we should break up. I feel like we live in two different worlds, not just Mexico & America, ya know?Samantha Laurenti as Mikaylah
I generally try to catch up with any festival films I’ve missed when they release to the public. First Date had a good enough impression on Sundance 2021 audiences to make me curious, so I put it on my calendar. Was it worth the wait? Well, yes and no.
Every frame of First Date is harrowing and warped in some sort of way. Whether it’s some clever lens distortion or a shift of the camera, cinematographer, co-director, writer, and composer Manuel Crosby is probably the film’s highlight.
This is probably the best time to talk about the multi-hyphenate Crosby. Crosby’s talents are spread thin by directing, writing, producing, shooting, editing, and composing the film. He’s helped out a little in the directing department by Darren Knapp, has a whole host of producers, Zach Passero in the editing bay, and composers Noah Lowdermilk & Kevin Kentera. Even then, it seems like Crosby is the man with the singular vision driving First Date and making much of the creative choices here, and I think much of the film’s flaws can be traced back to choices Crosby makes.
One of the odd creative choices Crosby makes is combining a horror thriller with a comedy. I’m always a fan of injecting levity into dark situations. Still, for a film centering around the subtle racial tensions Black Americans are up against every day, the level of levity at display throughout the script is a bit too much for my liking. It felt like as soon as things got too real, Crosby swerves to the right and makes a joke.
What about book club?Ryan Quinn Adams as Vince
There’s good material in the script, like Mike’s overall awkwardness when talking to Kelsey, and the scenes with Sergeant Davis and Deputy Duchovny, but these moments are too far and few in between.
I’ve been scared my whole life.Tyson Brown as Mike
Crosby and Zach Passero’s editing is relatively restrained. This is one area where I think Crosby possibly relied on Passero, as Crosby’s cinematography seems to be left to speak for itself in the edit. The only area where I noticed the editing was in a shoot-out scene, where the editing helps to enhance the chaos of the gunfight.
Likewise, the music by Crosby, Kentera & Lowdermilk is about as inoffensive as it gets. In fact, of the twelve songs that play during the film, only two of them were composed by Crosby, Kentera & Lowdermilk. The other ten songs are from bands like Thrillharmonik, Art Mechanix, Subra Doyle, Andrew Stevens, Miles Olson, and Sounds of Jah. These licensed songs are generally alt-pop or alt-rock in nature, which are always a good listen but don’t feel like a good fit for the film itself.
The main cast consists of Tyson Brown as Mike, and Shelby Duclos as Kelsey. The duo is great together, filling their roles as the emotional core of the film.
However, much of the more enjoyable parts of the film have to go to Brown. He’s simply great at displaying Mike’s insecurities about dating Kelsey, his fears of stepping on the wrong toes, and so much more, even when he’s not speaking. So much of his acting relies on two things: his facial expressions and his ability to crack jokes in tense situations. If Brown wasn’t in the film, I think my rating would be a lot lower than it is.
Duclos’ Kelsey isn’t bad either. She’s not given enough room to shine, but when she finally joins the main cast, the film clicks on all cylinders. She plays off of Brown’s nervousness well, but is also importantly able to be enough of a character in the film, even with her limited screen time.
The supporting cast is Jesse Janzen as The Captain, Nicole Berry as Sergeant Davis, Samuel Ademola as Deputy Duchovny, Ryan Quinn Adams as Vince, Angela Barber as Ricky, Josh Fesler as Brett, Dave Reimer as Shannon, Leah Finity as Darla, Jake Howard as Donnie, Scott Noble as Dennis, and Brittany Rietz as Confused Car Woman. This supporting cast is excellent, with the highlights being Janzen and Berry.
Janzen’s The Captain is probably the heart of most of the humor in the film, and he pulls it off well, for what the script requires. My only wish is that Crosby would have held off on this character a bit longer, so there was more mystery surrounding this character.
Berry’s Sergeant Davis is, without spoiling some story points, the MVP of the supporting cast. She has to carry much of the film on her back. I’d love to see more from her in this respect. She’s got the talent to where I could see her leading her own film in the near future.
I wish Crosby would have given some more creative control of First Date to an outside screenwriter, but I understand the need to babysit the film all along the production process. Unfortunately, it’s commonplace nowadays for a studio to buy a script, and turn the film the screenwriter wrote into an unrecognizable piece of trash they trot out during awards season. Maybe his next feature film will be a bit more focused, and I’ll be the first to say: I can’t wait to see what he does after this, despite First Date‘s flaws.
You can watch First Date at home.
Until next time!