Sunday, 30 March 2014

"My First Mister" by CHRISTINE LAHTO - A Review Of Her 2001 Film On DVD and Download...




"…Reviewing My Options..." 

Jennifer Wilson sticks a safety pin in her palm to draw blood onto a typically morose diatribe on parchment paper as she watches a cheery Partridge Family re-run on television (David Cassidy singing "I think I love you..."). Her bedroom would make The Addams Family proud. Plastic skeletons hang from the mirror, black and silver skull murals adorn the wardrobe, decapitated girly toy dolls stabbed with safety pins and needles sit beside naked shop mannequins covered in black eyeliner and blood. This is the kind of doom-filled bedroom "Game of Thrones" set designers would wander around looking for good ideas.


Jay is miserable to a degree that is hilarious and pathological (the lovely and talented Leelee Sobieski). She's alienated everyone at school with how she acts and looks (tattoos, piercings, hoodies, everything in black), hasn't had a boyfriend, her mother's a hyperactive re-married wreck and her wig-wearing step-father seems absent to the world from the waist up (fabulous work by Carol Kane and Michael McKean). Jay looks at people through binoculars - backwards - because they seem more fun that way. She also enjoys lying on graves feeling the 'energy' of women who have passed and sees her beloved dead grandmother sat opposite her at the dinner table as mother serves up yet more leftover Brisket. Jay throws a paper-glider from her bedroom window each day to the uncaring World outside with her latest eulogy statement. She even self-inflicts on her arms when she's in real pain. You could say the young Californian lady has her 'issues'...

One day Jay heads into where the real money is at - the Century City shopping mall in Los Angeles. Having been chucked out of every clothing store for looking like Edward Scissorhands on a Goth tip and scaring the Bejayzuss out of the customers - she ends up outside a high end clothing store called Rutherfords. Inside she sees the cardigan wearing, oversized-slacks owning Randall unsuccessfully trying to dress an armless female mannequin in the store window. For some reason Jay takes a shine to this slightly odd and sad man. However it turns out Randall Harris is not such a drip - he's witty, just as quick with the retort and although he's a guarded soul too - Randall is older, wiser and somehow more kindly (a fantastically effecting Albert Brooks).

So in a moment of olive branch and spurred on by her obvious intelligence and initiative - Manager Randall offers the crazy-looking brat a storeroom job colour-coding the men's shirts. It isn't long before Randall's goodness starts to rid her of those dark-world trappings and from underneath all that black make-up emerges something pretty - even loveable and fun. Soon they're hanging out, visiting her drinking haunts, having laughs, playing records in stores and both slowly opening up to a world of possibilities that isn't so isolated and alone anymore. They may even be slightly in love, as she gets jealous of older women and their attention to Randall. Jay even hooks up with her pot-smoking freewheeling Dad again (typically funny and great work from John Goodman) and things seem good for a while...

A relationship between a pretty seventeen year-old and a rotund 49 year-old male with a moustache, curly hair and no dress sense might descend into farce and even become pervy - or simply be on screen for the sake of audience shock value. But long-time Actress and Director Christine Lahti is careful to keep their time together on an even keel. But better than that - there's a genuine chemistry of affection between actors Sobieski and Brooks that fills every scene with a tenderness and admiration that is rare. These are two lost souls helping each other come out of their darkness and loneliness - and each scene they're together in bristles with that lovely hopefulness that probably made the Director want to make the movie in the first place.

The burgeoning love between them is never consummated (not that kind of tale) but Jay soon discovers that Randall Harris is keeping a secret about a wife that left decades back, a son he never knew and a medical condition he's kept hidden from everyone (the woman who visits at the shop is a nurse - Mary Kay Place as Patty). And on it goes to Jay desperately trying to get back to a hospital in time with a young man in tow (Desmond Harrington) who is just as moody and morose as she is...

I loved Christine Lahti in "Housekeeping" (a 1987 film that's long forgotten and criminally so) and I figured her "My First Mister" would be touching - and it is. "You communicate with articles not humans..." Jay says to neurotic Randall in a probing moment. She honestly calls him "anal dude" in another and he doesn't mind because deep down he knows she's right. He jokes back in the early part of their relationship "We'll keep her in the store on a temporary basis in case she tries suicide!" - while he later confesses on his home porch "I'm afraid of everything...going to bed...waking up..." Astutely and beautifully observed by Jill Franklyn (the Writer) - there's a dance of truth and expression between the two lead characters that is both profound and warm and not easy to get right.

Perhaps because of its slightly naff title this 2001 film never seemed to get noticed - and to this day (2014) the HD version is only available on a download (there's no BLU RAY). But this is one little tattoo on the buttocks I suggest you get down and dirty with...

A tender and life-affirming movie - maybe one day "My First Mister" will make it onto the new format. I will look forward greatly to that...

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