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Sundance 2021 Review: First Date – “A little bit of something for everyone”

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Tyson Brown and Shelby Duclos appear in First Date by Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp, an official selection of the NEXT section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Manuel Crosby.

The first date is a right of passage, and like many firsts comes with a distinct sense of anxiety.  At this crucial, awkward teenaged time in your life where your hormones are on overdrive, asking someone out is enough to make anyone nervous.  And that can lead to some pretty bad decisions as our protagonist is about to discover in co-writer and directors Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp‘s debut feature, First Date.

Mike (Tyson Brown) is a good kid, a shy kid.  His liberal parents just left town for Las Vegas, so confident they are in their son that they leave him behind with an empty house, telling him to even have a party if he wants to.  His only instructions are to make sure no one puts their feet on the coffee table.  However, his parents departure in their family minivan has left him in a bind as Mike has just scored a date with his crush Kelsey (Shelby Duclos) and he’s meant to pick her up at 7pm.

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With those pre-date jitters putting Mike on a road of bad decisions, he grabs all of his savings and finds a car on the internet to purchase.  When he arrives the shady looking seller has already sold the car he wanted, but what about the ‘collectors item’ in the garage?  There’s a giant crack in the windshield, the upholstery is peeling away and the body is so rusted, no one can even tell what make it is (a running joke).  But wanting to impress Kelsey, and with the clock ticking, Mike doesn’t have a lot of options and purchases the wreck.  Turns out though, Mike’s new ride is hiding a few secrets, and there’s a criminal gang looking to get it back.

Writers/directors Crosby and Knapp made First Date a little bit of something for everyone – part comedy, part action, part crime drama, part teen romance.  But like Date Night or Booksmart it really falls into that ‘one crazy night’ genre where one main goal gets sidetracked by many unexpected circumstances. It’s an ambitious project for a first feature, especially one on a minimal indie budget, and it certainly comes off as an example of lo-fi filmmaking on a shoestring with minimal score and production design.  Crosby and Knapp work with what they have, and there are certainly parts of the script that are smart and unpredictable, including a couple of twists that I never saw coming.

Newcomer Tyson Brown does reasonable work for his first feature film but is limited by the fact that his character really spends a lot of time just in wide-eyed wonder.  Mike is an innocent bystander, an observer to the chaos surrounding him. He never really DOES anything, but when he does it’s the right thing, which in this film almost guarantees he finishes last. Shelby Duclos is given the more interesting role here, her tough, boxing teen getting to break-out more than her counterpart.  However, we spend way too much unenjoyable time with the moronic gang of criminals to even really get a good sense of chemistry between the two leads or see their relationship unfold.

First Date culminates in a drawn-out, nonsensical shoot out, taking up too much of the film’s 103 minutes.  While a feat for first time filmmakers and actors to pull off, what should be the suspenseful and action-packed climax of the film just drags.  There are some elements of First Date that show promise for the screenwriters, and especially for the lead actors, but for me, a date with this film ends only with a polite goodbye and with certainly no promise of a second.

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