First Date endows its stock premise with a zany amateurism that is simultaneously cool and cringeworthy.
First Date, the debut feature of directorial duo Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp, has a gonzo sensibility that threatens, on occasion, to undermine its claims to baseline competency. The premise, without spoiling too much, goes as such: a questionable choice of car for a first date leads to overnight run-ins with cops, crime, and cocaine. Awkward teen Mike (Tyson Brown), who’s never had much success with girls, nearly meets with an accident while distracted by the sight of Kelsey (Shelby Duclos), his high-school crush; after some goading from his buddy Brett, he calls her and they agree to “hang out” later the same evening. Kelsey’s jock neighbor, to Mike’s chagrin, never ceases in his advances on her which she, in turn, never ceases to rebuff. The inexperienced homies, believing the automobile an absolute in the rulebook of attraction, set out for the nearest paint-moulted metal heap masquerading as a ’65 Chrysler. This shabby paint-job, unbeknownst to them, conceals much more. Soon, a swathe of criminal activity will encroach on the hapless virgin and upset his flights of fancy with Kelsey.
Like Adam Rehmeier’s Dinner in America from last year’s Sundance, First Date thrusts its off-kilter energy into full view, endowing an otherwise run-of-the-mill premise with a zany amateurism that’s simultaneously cool and cringeworthy. The former’s punkish adoption of cynical affectations à la Todd Solondz or François Ozon finds a kind of analogue in First Date’s placeholding romance: part-mumblecore, part-student film, its first few expository minutes inject such soulless infantilism through the near-unwatchable setup (more befitting of tween TikTok chat groups than adolescent conversations) that it almost appears suicidal to carry on. Luckily, the film’s grating hodge-podge of blurry and haphazardly spliced shots soon makes way for its comedic meat, cutting into territory charted through the uncanny dissolving of quirk and menace. Crosby and Knapp stretch the conceit of leaving a car’s shady history unresearched to what might be considered shaggy-dog limits; many unruly bad guys and untold bullets later, the car goes back to being someone else’s heap and Mike, else he risk their lives for nothing, finds himself liked by Kelsey. The entire story might have been otherwise content with its high-octane thrills and low-life shills, but as an awkward virgin himself, this writer really wouldn’t mind some sensual first-timing wedged in between.
Originally published as part of Sundance Film Festival 2021 — Dispatch 3.