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    My First Mister

    Secret agin' man

    A teenage girl's unorthodox friendship with a store clerk more than 30 years older makes for an absorbing character-driven drama in "My First Mister."


    "My First Mister" may be a notable first. Although it continues the disturbing Hollywood trend of an older man paired with a ridiculously younger woman (see Woody Allen's "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion" for the latest and probably most extreme example), for perhaps the first time this uncomfortable union doesn't produce a loud, vulgar gagging sound from the back of one's throat.

    Directed by: Christine Lahti.
    Written by: Jill Franklyn.
    Cast: Albert Brooks, Leelee Sobieski, Desmond Harrington, Carol Kane, Michael McKean, Mary Kay Place.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    In Christine Lahti's feature-directing debut, Albert Brooks ("Broadcast News," "Defending Your Life") and Leelee Sobieski ("The Glass House," "Joy Ride") play polar opposites separated by gender and some 30 odd years (with "odd" being the operative word). Randall is an uptight, anal-retentive 49-year-old who owns an uppity men's clothing store. Jennifer (aka J) is an angry, brooding 17-year-old with a penchant for piercing and Goth garb. Together they make beautiful music.

    Well, not exactly. "My First Mister" is a lot of things but sleazy isn't one of them. In fact, it sidesteps the whole sexual debate and instead presents the notion that two loners from different ends of the psychosocial spectrum might develop a genuine friendship. In a lot of ways the central relationship in the film is not unlike the relationship between Edith and Seymour in the equally affecting "Ghost World" — she wears combat boots and dyes her hair jet back and he's got his emotions filed away with his record albums.

    Lahti's film wastes no time in getting inside the head of Jennifer, and it's a terrifyingly sad existence. J lives with her distracted mother (a subdued Carol Kane) and her ineffectual stepfather (a subdued Michael McKean) and nobody understands her. While hanging out at the Century City Mall, J observes Randall window dressing and is amused enough by his antics to venture into the store and ask the slightly-overweight, middle-aged manager — whom she later dubs "R" — for a job. R reluctantly takes her on (with a few caveats) and soon they begin to share experiences and tastes, from music to tattoos, clothes to graveyards.

    Whereas the film takes a "Terms of Endearment" turn towards melodrama in its final third, the characters that Brooks and Sobieski have so expertly realized keep the film on an even keel. Even the creaky appearance of a family member from R's past (played by Desmond Harrington, who's so stiff and awkward he must be a friend of the director's), doesn't distract from the overall feel of this movie: it's solid and likable and very moving. The writing, too (by Jill Franklyn), is tight and credible and even though Lahti (better known for her acting abilities; she was in "Who's Life is it Anyway?" and "Housekeeping" and had several seasons as Dr. Kate Austin on TV's "Chicago Hope") makes some obvious rookie blunders, she focuses her camera and attentions almost exclusively on the veteran Brooks and the up-and-comer Sobieski.

    And "My First Mister" is all the better for it.

    NOVEMBER 1, 2001

    Reader comments on My First Mister:

  • "My First Mister   from John Gresock, May 6, 2002
  • Re: "My First Mister   from sara kaplan, Jun 17, 2006
  • Reaction to "Mister"   from Richard Crowley, May 21, 2002
  • Re: Reaction to "Mister"   from Lars Pitard, Feb 19, 2004
  • My jaw Dropped and a tear flowed   from scott chesnut, May 28, 2002
  • Movies You Remember   from Kristin, Aug 2, 2002
  • J and R   from rwbh, Aug 27, 2002
  • soundtrack   from Jim, Nov 1, 2002
  • Re: soundtrack   from Jae, Jan 17, 2003
  • Re: soundtrack-i found something   from KT, Feb 1, 2003
  • Re: soundtrack-i found something   from phillyjen, Jun 1, 2003
  • Re: soundtrack-i found something   from Mary, Aug 21, 2003
  • Re: soundtrack-i found something   from Jack1961, Jan 15, 2004
  • Re: soundtrack   from Barb, Mar 1, 2003
  • Re: soundtrack   from Alese, Mar 7, 2003
  • Re: soundtrack   from Greg, Mar 27, 2003
  • Impressive!   from Len, Nov 22, 2002
  • Mister   from Rick Massey, Nov 30, 2002
  • Show this to your teens   from NormD, Dec 13, 2002
  • Memorable Movie   from gingermeister, Jan 30, 2003
  • good, old fashioned entertainment!!!   from bill cowan, Feb 12, 2003
  • Celebration of Life   from Gail Braxton, May 25, 2003
  • leelee rocks   from georgia, Jun 9, 2003
  • THE BEST!!!!!   from Sally Reed, Jun 29, 2003
  • I love being surprised by a movie   from EasilyOdd, Jul 8, 2003
  • An incredible characterization   from Aurora Fischer, Nov 23, 2003
  • Christine Lahti's directing deput   from Jeremy Hahn, Dec 7, 2003
  • [no subject]   from , Aug 15, 2004
  • Wow, what a great movie!   from Wallyism, Jul 21, 2005
  • Truely amazing.   from Fred (the girl), Sep 16, 2007
  • Late night surprise   from Brian Yff, Jan 2, 2008
  • My First Mister   from Brandt Jackson, Nov 6, 2009

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