Teen romantic comedies seem to be a dime a dozen. It doesn't seem like too many fresh stories come along anymore that aren't filled with the typical clichés. But, sometimes when you are least expecting it, and you are resisting giving another teen comedy a chance, one surprises you.
The First Time is a little gem of a film that is intelligently written and directed by Jon Kasdan. He provides us with an intriguing story with smart, every-day characters that we like. The story is about two teens who arbitrarily meet at teen drunk-fest. However, rather than being inside with all of the other kids, Dave (Dylan O'Brien) is outside in an alley practicing how he is going to share his longtime feelings with his friend Jane, who is basically worshiped by boys everywhere. Through the door comes Aubrey (Britt Robertson) who obviously isn't into the party scene but was dragged there by her friends. Suddenly, these two kids strike up a conversation. The wonderful, and frankly, best part about this movie are the conversations that are shared between Dave and Aubrey throughout the film. They discover that they have something in common, despite Dave's infatuation for Jane, and despite Aubrey's "boyfriend."
Aubrey is a girl with many ideas about life. But, like a teenager, it's all theory and no experience. This is not a slight against the character, but a realistic one, which is why the movie works so well. She is an intelligent girl who isn't thrown into ideas of wild fancy. She slights "cheesy romance" even though on some level, she likes it. She hates PDA for the same reason. She is inexperienced in the areas of romance and relationships, which obviously includes sex. However, she has a certain wit and charm that makes her very likeable. She is more guarded with her emotions than Dave. It's a scary thing to let go of those walls long enough to let someone in; to risk getting hurt.
Dave is your "good guy." However, he doesn't fit the typical mold of the "nice guy" by being some kind of a loser. He's a cool guy too. He is caring, and it becomes quickly obvious that he is falling for Aubrey. He knows he has more in common with Aubrey than he ever would with Jane. However, like Aubrey, Dave is also inexperienced. Dave is a bit shy, but he opens up around Aubrey.
I like the fact that the friends of the main characters aren't clichéd either. We expect Jane to be one of those typical stuck-up girls. She knows she's attractive, but she also wonders why she can't seem to attract "a real man" as she confesses to Aubrey. Jane isn't wise enough to realize that her best "guy" friend fits the mold to a T, and Aubrey nearly tells her this when she quickly bites her tongue. Ronnie, however, is more in line with the typical unfeeling, uncaring boyfriend who is only interested in one thing. He just doesn't get it.
The interesting thing about being a teenager is that they idolize and idealize a number of "first time" experiences. Show me a teenager who doesn't dream and fantasize about things like the first kiss, the first time you make love, etc. And, of course, when things don't pan out to their expectations, it's as if the world has conspired against them. They quickly believe they have done something wrong, rather than understanding that it's really nothing more than a lack of knowledge and experience. In other words, teenagers are great talkers about experiences, especially ones they have never had. Life is often a journey of trial and error, and it is unfortunate that our kids often have to learn the hard way rather than have an understanding parent to enlighten them. Of course, it would help if these teens would talk to their parents, but we understand the fears surrounding that.
After less than two days' time, Aubrey invites Dave over to her house when her parents are going out. We all know what is going to happen. However, the viewer may be surprised by what actually does happen. Dave shows up. The two get to the point where they are talking so much while they are kissing, that it's painfully obvious, that they are about to hit that wall; the wall to which on the other side, lies the unknown. There is an awkwardness that hits them both like a mack truck. And why wouldn't it? They are both aiming for perfection of experience and expression. And yet, neither one knows how to go about it. This is what parents mean when they ask their teenagers to "wait until you are ready and you have the maturity to deal with what follows." The physical aspects are simple compared to the emotional aspects. This is the area that befuddles teens and adults alike. A bond is created, and inevitably what follows is uncomfortable silence and awkwardness. Dave and Aubrey are trying to figure out what went wrong. Why didn't things work like they expected them to?
Teens can often look at experiences as an "all or nothing" proposition. So, if something as big as a first time of love-making doesn't work out, is that then the end of the relationship? Dave and Aubrey try to figure out who did what wrong. Who is to blame? Wisdom is passed on by Dave's quiet friend, who tells him, "it was sex. One time. The first time. You don't know anything from that. You're going to tell me that it isn't worth giving one more shot? But you need to be a man." In other words, don't give up and throw in the towel like many teens (and even adults!) would do. Instead, talk to her and figure it out. It can be worked out.
The movie works because of the two characters. Britt Robertson all but steals this movie with her portrayal of the perky, quick-witted, but emotionally scared Aubrey. She has a charm and a certain vivaciousness that makes Aubrey stand out and apart from so many other teen-girl characters. Dylan O'Brien pretty much keeps pace with Britt. He matches her in every scene, and both actors do a phenomenal job of expressing their characters' naivety and vulnerabilities.
There are some peripheral characters that we just don't see enough of, and unfortunately, it detracts a bit from the film. Dave's sister is cute as a button, but she is only in two scenes. Aubrey's parents are the only parents that we see, and unless they were planning to explore both of these relationships a bit more, they don't really add much to the film.
I think this movie should be required viewing for older teens. I think they could all relate to the two main characters in many ways and see some parallels between them and their own lives. In the end, it is about communication. And we can all do a better job at that.