Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Sundance with Abe: First Date

I’m thrilled to be covering the Sundance Film Festival for the eighth time. This year, I’m not in Park City, Utah, but watching films virtually and reviewing them as soon as I can.

First Date
Directed by Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp

People are often nervous before going on a date, and for good reason. It’s important to make the right first impression, and getting to a second date usually requires the first one going well. In many cases, it’s not a good fit, but it’s also true that circumstances may align to sway things in a certain direction. A series of unfortunate coincidences has the potential to derail even the best of intentions, and such unexpected obstacles often sound like made-up excuses that might knock points off an otherwise promising score.

Mike (Tyson Brown) gets pressured by his best friend Brett (Josh Fesler) to call his crush, Kelsey (Shelby Duclos) and ask her out. When she agrees to get together that night, Mike panics because his parents have taken the car and he can’t pick her up. His decision to buy an old car from the talkative Dennis (Scott E. Noble) proves to be a tremendous mistake when he first gets pulled over by two police officers (Nicole Berry and Samuel Ademola) and then learns that the contents of the car are very much wanted by a group of bickering criminals led by The Captain (Jesse Janzen).

This film presents a chronicle of worst-case scenarios where Mike just can’t make it to pick Kelsey up on time. The stakes of that missed opportunity are considerably lower than the tremendously real danger Mike faces at the hands of criminals who don’t care if he lives and just want to reclaim their product. Fortunately, this film makes what could have been a lackluster crime-comedy storyline into something truly terrific, imbuing each character with a real personality. Mike may well be the least interesting player in his own story, in part because every single person he encounters brings their own baggage and shares it with the audience in a hilarious and wonderful way.

The entire cast here is superb, led by Brown as a relatably awkward protagonist in way over his head. There’s no wasted role, and it’s great to see such formidable talent used, no matter the size of their parts. Ryan Quinn Adams is particularly fantastic as one of the bumbling criminals, and Duclos does a formidable job of making Kelsey much more memorable and individualistic than the character she’s playing might typically be in other films. Its plot often tends towards the absurd but never goes too far, and this wild ride is refreshingly creative and marvelously entertaining.


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