by Greg Muskewitz
Critically compared to the very similarly themed Ghost World, this has been considered the mutt or blacksheep of the didymous. Their similarities stretch a little farther as well, for not only do they cover much of the same ground, but both films had been held back for a considerable amount of time (making it that much more difficult to trace which came first), despite the positive reactions to both. But with the opening of My First Mister, a lot of the vocal support seems to have dried up and stayed in favor of Terry Zwigoff’s film. Not mine.In fact, my support of My First Mister outweighs Ghost World’s and I have to admit, even though I liked that film as well, it doesn’t stand anywhere as close on my meritorious list as it seems to have climbed on many other critics’ so far this year. (However, in a fluff, studio-stroking piece earlier this week in The Daily News, they were already stretching for Oscar nominations, and Ghost World was completely absent. But the piece was an ignorant, groundless one that’s trying to make a speech when there aren’t any words to use.) Anyhow, Leelee Sobieski is Jennifer, or simply “J”; she’s a confused teen—an externalizer rather than an internalizer, gothic-styled, multi-facially pierced, into self-mutilation, she reads books by Anne Rice or the likes of “Beauty’s Punishment,” and when she isn’t writing eulogies and obituaries for herself, she’s “a fuckin’ poet.” Thus, when she gets fired from her job, she must seek out a new one, and somehow manages to make some sort of impression on a clothing store manager, Randall (Albert Brooks), or as she calls him, “R.” They click, but not immediately; R knows how to work her strings and get the best out of her, and J is somewhat comforted by his acceptance of her (albeit, without all the dark make-up and facial rings and studs), thereby blossoming a very strong friendship—a May/December platonic relationship—something that’s been missing from her life, as well as his (“You communicate with articles, not humans”). Like Ghost World, this is a cry to the freaks and geeks, loners and losers, and never does it offend anyone who might label themselves as being one of those types of people. The power of Ghost World was first in its retro bells-and-whistles in which it didn’t need to create another universe to be able to fit in, and then in the unabashed portraits of real or semi-real people. My First Mister betters that by focusing on the human element, the human contact, and that reaches out farther and harder. When it comes to me, my connection with J was deeper and more understood, more realistic and more sincere than what I could share with Enid. J/Jennifer is closer to people I know or have known throughout high school and college, my identification was more solidified and fluid. There were too many confines in Ghost World that it never could quite escape from (possibly from being a comic), that this doesn’t have to fuss with or fret about. The examination of J’s lost identity, her quest for it, her angst at home with her mother (a dopey Carol Kane, as unrealistic of a parent as Enid’s Bob Balaban-played father), the struggles of school, her sexuality (she masturbates to a poster of Freddie Prinze, Jr.) or questions about it (“The question of my generation: to dive or not to dive”), etc. The script never commits to dealing with the parental point-of-view, and that tends to be partially detrimental. When it comes to the two main characters, it fully delivers, and the conversations and anecdotes exchanged are rich and effective (one of my favorites was “The Little Boy Who Cried Fuck”). There is no nostalgic cushion like Ghost World had as its main support, it’s all driven by the vehemence and realism of Sobieski and Brooks, both of whom give two of the best performances this year. Sobieski, bettering her more experienced co-star, has completed her most challenging role since A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries. Brooks has come a long way since Modern Romance (not in filmmaking per se, but in acting) and he humanizes Randall so well that you don’t mind some of the excess sentimentality that goes into it. As a director Christine Lahti isn’t as competent or assured as Zwigoff, and she is more interested in goofy tricks such as Ally McBeal-like digital comments on character’s lips or buttocks. The last quarter of the film also suffers from unnecessary inclusions—a son character and J’s Hippie dad, and overall the mood is drawn out to be too mawkish, but the film never loses sight of J and R and what they mean to us and to themselves.
"My First Freak."
Written by Jill Franklyn. With John Goodman.Final Verdict:A-.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=4865&reviewer=172
originally posted: 10/28/01 04:15:06