SUNDANCE 2021 PREMIERE – At first glance, teen-led dark comedy First Date (2021), written and directed by Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp, may seem out of place being included in the “Next” category of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, a section typically dedicated to experimental or otherwise boundary-pushing feature films. However, after viewing, I can see that Crosby-Knapp’s take on a romantic, coming-of-age comedy is definitely a fresh one, coming off like a thrill ride at times, sending me on a ride alongside our protagonist over the course of one crazy night.
First Date stars Tyson Brown in his feature film acting debut as Mike, an awkward teen who is intrinsically smitten with Kelsey (Shelby Duclos) a strong-willed and beautiful classmate. After finally getting the courage to ask her out and securing a date, Mike sets out to buy a car for the occasion, but can only find a junky, old 1965 Chrysler. Though the seller seems nice at first, it turns out that he–and the car–are involved in criminal activities, and soon after Mike unknowingly drives off with a car used to run drugs, he begins to have run-ins with both the police and criminals who continually interrupt his date night.
First Date is so funny that it is memorable, I will be laughing for days at its grizzly antics of mincing violence with humor. First Date is one of those large ensemble cast movies where eccentric character after eccentric character tries to outdo the next, set against a usually straight-man protagonist, and it does this familiar plot quite well, employing a diverse cast of young and old players as well as featuring a Black male-lead. Tyson Brown is totally endearing as luckless Mike, and I can see him easily fitting into more lead-roles in the future as he carries dark crime-comedy very well.
I loved the unexpectedness throughout the film–events did not happen for shock value, but they were surprising nonetheless. I had gone in expecting to see a light, romantic teen-comedy, but directors Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp apparently had other things than romance on his mind, as First Date leaned into exploring all the possibilities for danger and violence rather than sappiness. Though we do get to see Tyson Brown gradually take Mike from meek to confident, there was hardly any room for even teen angst or growing pangs as the teens were put in dangerous and deadly situations from nearly start to finish. The final third of the movie is highlighted by an almost over-the-top gunfight, adding some action to the already laugh-out-loud-entertaining film.
The darker the comedy the sweeter its juice, juice being plot, and First Date is pretty juicy. Of all the movies with a similar plot that takes place over one day or night throughout a series of unfortunate events–see Date Night (2010), The Lovebirds (2020), etc.–First Date feels like a new formula for this dark comedy equation. The movie has an old story but a young voice, and I can totally see this movie being meme-able, with characters screaming “You should have worn a f*cking mask!” and other meta one-liners throughout the film.
7 out 0f 10