Featuring a poster that looks like just about every other generic romance film that has ever existed, I was still willing to give First Love a chance based merely on the pedigree of the talent involved. They may not be the best movies by any stretch of the imagination, but through the After series, I became enamored with actor Hero Fiennes Tiffin. Hero’s scene partner this time around is young actress Sydney Park, who I absolutely loved in last year’s excellent throwback slasher, There’s Someone Inside Your House. Two excellent leads do not necessarily make for a great movie, and while individually I really like both Hero and Sydney, their chemistry is virtually nonexistent.
Set in 2008 in the aftermath of the biggest financial crisis in decades, First Love shows us the way one family was effected… sort of. Glenn (Jeffrey Donovan, Villains, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2) is patriarch, freshly let go from his job. Kay (Diane Kruger, Inglourious Basterds, Swimming with Sharks) struggles to pick up the pieces and keep the marriage going strong; they quickly come to the conclusion that they may need to sell their house in order to make it out of this thing relatively unscathed. A side story with Kay’s aunt and her declining health seems tacked on and ultimately unnecessary beyond padding the time. Whenever we visit the parents, the film feels disjointed and scattered. It is as if Kay and Glenn were shipped over from another movie entirely.
Kay and Glenn have two sons, but with Casey being shipped off to the Navy, Jim (Hero Fiennes Tiffin) becomes the central focus. Cramming for a high school essay at the last minute, Jim spies on a cute girl at the library through the stacks. He cannot stop thinking about her, and quickly pursues her in any way he can. Jim attempts to woo Ann (Sydney Park) by forging notes to get her out of class, sharing a passionate kiss with her during a party game very similar to truth or dare, and making her a mixtape. Ann’s mom doesn’t want her to miss out on opportunities with schooling because of the attentions of a random boy. Par for the course, as Jim is supposed to be in high school, both he and his eventual love interest are portrayed by 20-somethings. The dialogue between them is as clunky as it is uninspired.
First Love is PG-13 and sanitized to the extreme, coming across as a copy of a copy of a copy. The script from writer/director A.J. Edwards feels very plain and safe, lacking an edge to set it apart. As much as I wanted to love the romance presented, it never feels earned. After one quick sexual encounter, Jim is already proclaiming his love, and I was left rolling my eyes. The whole doe-eyed head-over-heels teens in love thing has been done to death, so presenting it in an unblemished way minus the grit just ends up rather pointless. Fans of either lead may find passable entertainment, but similar to the three people that kiss Ann at the party, I think I would have to rate it as a 3 out of 10.
First Love brings a simplistic story of true love to the big screen for limited release in theaters on Friday, June 17th.