Every year at Sundance there's the token teen romance featuring teenagers complaining about being teenagers for 90 minutes. Upon reading the description for Jon Kasdan's The First Time, I was afraid this would be that teen film -- the one that painfully tries to recreate the feelings of what it's like to be an angsty teen in today's technology-obsessed world by throwing in a few Facebook and Twitter references to let the kids know it's on their side. But then I watched the film and, sure, all of those cliches are in there, but somehow it still works.
Kasdan, son of famed writer-producer Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back), uses his experiences as a writer on Freaks and Geeks and Dawson's Creek to deliver a film that's very much a combination of both of those TV shows. His cast -- featuring a beyond-excellent Britt Robertson and Dylan O'Brien as two teens who meet at a party and slowly build a relationship that may or may not be ruined when the idea of sex finally enters the equation -- are all unique, and the film continually tries to find new ways to spin old formulas. For example, the lead guy naturally has two dorky best friends who throw him advice throughout, but this dude's best friends are played by a British geek (the scene-stealing Craig Roberts from Submarine) and the giant Lamarcus Tinker (as a guy known only by his football-related nickname "Big Corporation). It's the oddest trio you'll see on screen all year, but like the rest of the movie Kasdan just finds a way to make it work; to make it feel like these mismatched friends are together for a reason.
Losing your virginity is awkward and, in many cases, not all that much fun. Maybe your "first time" was some magical experience featuring pixie dust, candles and the perfect soundtrack, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say it probably sucked. Those moments after -- as your fantastical, long-brewing expectations clash with the actual reality of it -- are difficult to navigate when you're a teenager who's already overly sensitive and confused about everything. It's also something that's extremely hard to recreate on the big screen without it feeling forced or unnatural. Thankfully The First Time understands this and treats its subject matter with respect instead of trying to mock or ridicule it by throwing in some over-the-top comic set piece, a la American Pie or The Last American Virgin.
The script, while whip-smart and obviously tied to Kasdan's own experiences growing up, may also be a little too chatty, and some complaints I heard afterward were that "teens don't talk that way. They don't talk like a screenplay." But what makes The First Time work in the end is its tremendous heart that it wears proudly on its Abercrombie & Fitch sleeve. And when we finally get to those moments (the film's best, in my opinion) when characters prepare to lose their virginity, there's nothing about it we all (unfortunately) can't relate to.
As of this writing The First Time has not been picked up for release, though it will be. Expect the film to arrive in theaters later this year.