Written and directed by debut filmmakers Crosby and Knapp, “First Date” is a tight exercise in how much can happen in a night that never seems to end. It’s a bit like Martin Scorsese’s “After Hours” in that sense, but instead of taking place in the City that Never Sleeps, the story takes place in a sleepy North California suburb where high schoolers don’t usually find themselves in this sort of misadventure. The location only adds to the absurdity Mike and Kelsey stumble upon. The first two-thirds of the movie plays out like Mike’s tortured odyssey to get to Kelsey, making his struggle something of an epic. At one point, it even seems like our hero has lost his chance at a date, but the story is not done with him yet.
Also making their feature film debut, Brown and Duclos make quite the pair of long-time classmates, first-time dates. As Mike, Brown strikes the perfect balance between naïveté and cleverness, escaping awkward and potentially dangerous situations with quick action or carefully measured words. Of course, sometimes those fast moves also backfire, but that adds to Mike’s shock and by extension, the audience’s. Brown embodies his character’s sense of shyness and innocence, not just about the chaotic hand he’s been dealt, but also with his date, Kelsey. His insecurity is palpable in almost every scene, and it’s clear he’s afraid of being himself around her at first. As Brown’s co-star, Duclos is a formidable presence, playing a tough but cool high schooler with a troubled relationship with her parents, a background in kickboxing that comes in very handy later on, and an impulsive need to correct the dumb crooks acting like tough guys. Whereas Mike is slow to find his words and fails to stand up for himself more than a few times, Kelsey’s ready to fight just about anyone who isn’t Mike. It may be an act on the surface, but Kelsey’s teasing banter with Mike hints at a much more compelling character. After one flirtatious telephone call, we’re rooting for Mike to overcome his hesitation, and for his first date with Kelsey to be a successful one.
Part of the charm of “First Date” is its off-the-wall supporting cast. At times, they can be a bit much, threatening to send the movie over-the-edge into farce, but the directors reel in each nonsensical or overblown outburst just in time. For instance, Mike just can’t seem to get away from a sour-faced pair of cops, Sergeant Davis (Nicole Berry) and Deputy Duchovny (Samuel Ademola), yet each subsequent run-in only adds more mystery to their off-beat dynamic. The motor-mouthed Dennis (Scott Noble), a slippery dealer and car salesman who gets Mike into all this trouble, has even less scruples, overpowering Mike’s reluctance with a barrage of nonsense. He just can’t seem to stop trying to talk his way over people. Rounding out the melee is a group of criminals who treat their lucrative side hustle as a book club. They seem just as successful at pulling off these underground jobs as they are at actually reading the books they pick for the group. They bring a lot of yelling and complicated inter-relationships into the equation.
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