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."
By DAVID N. BUTTERWORTH
"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.
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.
|MY FIRST MISTER|
|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
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|
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Mister from Rick Massey, Nov 30, 2002
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