NOTE: This review contains the F-word, which is also used in the movie. If you are offended by this word, skip both this review and the movie.
So here’s Leelee Sobieski, playing a 17-year old “goth,” sitting in a coffee bar with her 49-year old boss, Albert Brooks, wearing conservative slacks and a sweater vest. Out of the blue she says to him, “so are you trying to fuck me?”
Sexual tension between a teenager and a gray-haired man doesn’t really seem like the right mix for what’s being sold as a lightweight comedy. In fact, it’s a little creepy. I don’t know what Jill Franklyn was trying to convey when she wrote the scene described above. It plays horribly, as does the entire film.
Not Rebel Without a Cause
R for sex, language
Sobieski plays a “troubled” teen. How do we know she’s troubled? Because her hair is dyed black and she has piercings on her face. And she writes poetry — eulogies to be exact.
There are good movies about troubled teens. There are movies that get into their heads and try to understand their angst. Rebel Without a Cause, Heathers, Welcome to the Dollhouse, even this year’s Ghost World all offer some insight into what makes a teen tick.
But in My First Mister, our troubled heroine is presented superficially. Naive adults have created the character of “J” (Sobieski), offering no insight into the mind of a death-obsessed, hormone-ravaged high school girl.
When you put a label on someone, they lose some humanity. They become that label. J’s “goth” appearance is such a label — it keeps the adults who made My First Mister from really understanding who J is as a person. J is just a stereotype, a caricature, a political cartoon.
The only insight into why she’s rebellious is that her parents are embarrassingly square. Mom (Carol Kane) is a bubbly ditz with funny little dogs, and dad (Michael McKean) is a dweeb with bad taste in clothes and hairpieces. Repo Man, as a counterexample, pits Emilio Estevez against parents worthy of rebellion — they spent his college money on marijuana and televangelism. J’s parents are merely strange.
Director Christine Lahti might have been going for the Tim Burton effect. Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands both feature quirky, embarrassing parents. In both cases, these characters complement the strangeness of the world Burton creates. However, in My First Mister, the parents are crazy caricatures in search of a worthy filmmaking style.
Not Harold and Maude
Hanging out at the mall, J picks a fight with Randall (Albert Brooks), who work in a men’s clothing store. He won’t hire her because of her “goth” looks. But she refuses to leave him alone, so he agrees to try her out — on the condition that she get rid of the face piercings.
The two have nothing but animosity for each other, yet eventually they find some mutual satisfaction in relieving each other’s loneliness. This idea is interesting. It has potential to be as endearing as, say Harold and Maude. Brooks and Sobieski give it their best, and their on-screen friendship, the spark between actors, seems plausible and maybe even genuine.
Alas, the characters are written without any depth. For example, Brooks confesses to being an omniphobe. Taken out of context it’s a funny scene, but his behavior in the rest of the film doesn’t support what he says. Their dialogue is only interesting as dialogue, not as any real interaction between two characters.
The sexual tension between the two just makes it worse.
Not Ghost World
There is some question as to whether their relationship will become physical. Maybe, I thought, My First Mister will be like Ghost World, wherein two lonely rejected souls can make an unlikely connection.
That’s when J says to Randall “so are you trying to fuck me?” and Randall reacts with an emphatic no, scolding himself (and the audience by proxy) for even considering the possibility. Then twenty minutes later, J dances for Randall, and the camera cuts between Brooks’ admiring countenance and Sobieski’s tight jeans.
In other words, the film lets us wonder about sex between the characters, then tells us we’re bad for wondering, then wonders about sex between its characters. It’s hypocritical and manipulative in the worst way. It’s unintentionally creepy, frustrating, boring and shallow. It’s sold as a lightweight dramatic comedy, but Mister misses by far.
To end on a positive note, here are eight movies worth watching instead of My First Mister.