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My First Mister

review by Zach B.

 

 

Rating: R (For Language and Some Sexual Material)

Running Time: 109 minutes

Starring: Albert Brooks, LeeLee Sobieski, Desmond Harrington, Carol Kane

Written by: Jill Franklyn

Directed by: Christine Lahti

 

Studio: Paramount

Retail Price: $29.95

Features: Audio Commentary with Director Chrstine Lahti

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (18 Scenes)

Released: April 23rd, 2002

 

 

Jennifer (LeeLee Sobieski) is a Goth teenager (with a lot of piercings and interesting rituals) who is quite anti-social and very lonely. She's not fond of anyone at her school and seems to hate her life. Her always happy mother gets on her nerves, while her remarriage to Bob (Michael McKean) and her parents divorce don't make things any easier. On the other side, we have Randall (Albert Brooks), a forty-nine year old man who runs a mall clothing store called Rutherfords, who enjoys perfection and reading magazines. These two don't seem to have any reason to meet at all, until Jennifer is axed from her job. After being rejected from job after job, she tries Randall's store and meets him. Looking at her, he instantly rejects her, but for some reason, he finds something in her, cleans her up and takes her under her wing. From there, despite each of their hesitations, a friendship begins to form. But soon, a revelation about Randall is revealed and it will truly effect what he and Jennifer have built together...

There have been plenty of odd couple stories before that we've all heard about and seen, but "My First Mister" is actually pretty different. Thankfully, it doesn't take the path that a lot of you would probably expect given that there is a grown adult and a teenager. Even though Jennifer has her sexual fantasies and brings up the topic of sex with Randall, the two do NOT have a romantic relationship. Their relationship is all friendly and they get along quite well as they get to know each other.

Much of the beauty in the movie is through Jill Franklyn's script. Each of our main characters is a catalyst against the other. Each one teaches the other about things that are important to them, and about things that they know are there, but fail to realize in their own life. So, these opposites get together and in some respects, are being hypocritical with what they say. But what's so nice about Jennifer and Randall is that they are tragic in their own ways, but because of their friendship, each of them grows up and starts to realize who they are and what they hold. Jennifer is the way she is because of what has happened to her, and though she wants to feel loved, she is insecure about opening up to those around her. Randall, on the other hand, lives a fairly tame life and isn't open to anything new. But both of them, deep inside, are lonely individuals with pretty bleak lives. But they offer each other their own interests and their ways of life. I found it quite interesting how Randall encourages Jennifer to live her life to the absolute fullest and what she has ahead of her, despite the fact that he didn't always do that. Each one shapes the other quite nicely, and like I said, through their words and what they do together, they form a rather strong friendship and teach other important things that we all must realize one day.

Franklyn's script has a great amount of ingenuity. She knows what to do and what traps to not fall in, and that's why I think the story succeeds as it does. The film is basically divided into two acts: J and R (J and R are Jennifer and Randall's nicknames that they give one another) meeting and friendship forming, and then Jennifer discovering Randall's past, what has happened to him and what's going on. Arguably, some may not like the second act. It's a bit predictable and somewhat manipulative, but in the context of the film, it really does work. It sets the foundation for the future of our characters, and just shows how friendships should be: that friends are willing to help friends, to know the most about them so that they can help them out in the best ways possible. The second act develops our characters more and all comes together really well, and I was quite intrigued on what would happen next. All of this, with razor sharp dialogue, characters who are fleshed-out and that you can relate to as well as understand in many senses plus those important themes and symbolisms (got to love the binoculars and their meaning). Everything this movie offers is quite believable.

All of this is brought to life by the performers. The roles of Jennifer and Randall are key, and thankfully, they have been well cast by two great actors. LeeLee Sobieski, who I keep saying is such a fabulous and versatile performer is simply extraordinary as Jennifer. Like usual, Sobieski taps into her characters and really gets who they are so she can embody them. Her delivery and mannerisms are right on target, and she shows Jennifer's eagerness and vulnerability. Albert Brooks, truly one of Hollywood's most talented actors, writers and directors gives a brilliant and heartwarming performance as Randall. Like Sobieski, he also gets into his character. Yet the emotion and passion he put into Randall really touched me, especially during the more sad scenes. Brooks is quite wry in the role, but he really pulls it off. Yet the success not only depends on the individual, but how each one plays off the other. Thankfully, Brooks and Sobieski have sparkling chemistry that makes the film believable and that they are these characters. They really are great together and work well with one another. They're truly a good duo and I feel both of them were robbed of Oscar® nominations. I find that really disappointing, because I think Randall is one of Brooks's best roles to date. As far as the rest of the cast, they're just as winning. Desmond Harrington is pretty intense, while Carol Kane works her own if not annoying magic (the annoying is in a good way, since her character is annoying). There are also some fun cameos too from the likes of John Goodman and Michael McKean.

On the directing side, Christine Lahti delivers an impressive feature film directing debut. Lahti is an Oscar® winner for directing the short film "Lieberman In Love" (I've never seen it), but judging from "My First Mister," I hope she directs more in the future. She's probably best known for all her acting nominations and awards (namely on the old medical drama "Chicago Hope"), but we can really see directing is a passion for her and she's just as good at it as acting. She sets this film at a great pace and there is a delicate flow to it... there's the build-up, the development and soon enough it all lets itself go into what it needs to do. She really makes this film even as we get as much as we should out of it. Lahti also offers us some nice shots and a strong sense of style, which is exactly what this film needs in key scenes. Overall, her work here is really impressive.

"My First Mister" is a fairly striking and original story about life and friendship, as it brings up several good points people tend to overlook about themselves without hammering it down into our faces. This is the type of little movie that I love, and of course, people fail to take notice. The film was met with mixed reactions by critics and was only given a fairly small release during the fall of 2001. Do try to discover this movie and check it out if you can... I think that if you sit down to watch it, you'll really enjoy what it has to offer.

 

"My First Mister" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the result is one stunning image that Paramount usually tends to offer us on their releases. There is a great level of sharpness and clarity to the picture, which is only brought down by some occasional noise on some objects and some blemishes, nicks, scratches and pieces of dirt. Fleshtones are very good, as they are natural and look very earthly. Color saturation is great all over too... colors are quite vibrant and bold within. There's a wide variety of color use throughout the movie, be it the dark colors of Jennifer's world or the oridnary and simplicity of what Randall sees. All the colors are saturated nicely. Detail is very good and blacks are quite solid. This is a very pleasing image.

 

"My First Mister" is presented in English 5.1 Dolby Digital or Dolby Surround. The 5.1 Dolby Digital track is definitely superior to the Dolby Surround track, and offers a very nice ambiance that reflects well with the film. Subwoofer here is decent, but there's not too much of it. There are some rather strong surround use here, but it's not often. The strong surrounds come through some doors closing and other more shocking noises. The film also features a different mix of music... rap, showtunes, classical stuff and more. They are well mixed and sound quite nice through all the speakers. The musical score from Steve Porcano also brings its sense of wonder and warmth. Overall, a good job here. Also included are English subtitles and English closed captions.

 

Nothing here, except an Audio Commentary with Director Christine Lahti. This is Lahti's directing debut for a feature length film, and her audio commentary is quite good. She has a pleasant voice, and touches on a wide array of topics. She pinpoints what the themes are and what they offer, what she wanted to accomplish, her experiences as a first time feature film director and interesting stories. She keeps things going and offers a lot about her own personal vision, storytelling, what people brought to this movie and what she did as well as learn from it all. This is a superb track that offers a fine amount of insight on to the directing process and what it took to make "My First Mister." This is really one of the best tracks I've heard lately, so don't miss it.

 

It saddens me to see movies like "My First Mister" perish a death that they don't deserve. This is an incredibly well made film that has a well honed script, solid direction and mesmerizing performances. This DVD doesn't disappoint either. Paramount has given it a good presentation, while Lahti delivers a great commentary. Overall, this is a perfect rental and truly worth a purchase if you liked the movie. Hopefully, "My First Mister" will get the audience it deserves on video and DVD. I hope it does, because this is one film that's not to be missed.