Meet the new odd couple.
In 1996 actress Christine Lahti won an Academy Award for her short film Lieberman In Love. Proving that she may just be as apt a director as she is an actress, Lahti was given the chance to direct her first feature film in 2001 with My First Mister, an offbeat love story about a goth-obsessed teenager and an anally retentive sales clerk who strike up a strange and wondrous friendship. Starring Albert Brooks (Lost In America, Mother) and Leelee Sobieski (The Glass House, Joy Ride), My First Mister comes to DVD care of Paramount Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Jennifer (Sobieski) is a 17-year old goth obsessed teenager with multiple face piercings, a love of eulogies, and a desire to spend most of her time in graveyards. Randall (Brooks) is middle-age, uptight salesman at a conservative clothing store who lives in fear of everything and is neat as a pin. While searching for a job at the local mall, Jennifer spots Randall at work and is reluctantly given the chance as the store's stock room girl. Though neither have anything in common, to their mutual amazement Jennifer and Randall quickly strike up a friendship that blossoms into a complex array of feelings for both parties. With a place to escape from her happily deranged mother (Carol Kane, Scrooged) and vacant stepfather (Michael McKean, Best In Show), Jennifer finds that she wants to shake up Randall's world just as much as he wants to quiet hers. As these two oddities begin a relationship of truth and discovery, a secret from Randall's past will be an ultimate test for two people who have come to care for each other in a way neither thought was possible.
My First Mister has two of the most polar opposite leads you can find, and makes us care about them. Of course, odd couple pairings are nothing new to the movies. From David Spade and Chris Farley to Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, much mileage has been gained from two people who shouldn't coexist in the same world, much less the same room, but do. Thus is the case with My First Mister, an enjoyable movie filled with as many laughs as there are touching moments.
My First Mister is a film that is all about the characters. The story is really inconsequential—all we need is a reason for these people to meet. From there we're taken on a weird and sometimes very funny journey with two people who have absolutely nothing in common…except a need for change. Writer Jill Franklin (a Seinfeld alum) injects some distinctive traits into each of these characters, making them both sympathetic and subsequently fascinating to watch. The actors inherit these mannerisms and make the characters their own in the most delightful of ways. Albert Brooks, one of the funniest men working in Hollywood, is pitch perfect as the uptight Randall. He really does look as if a men's conservative dress shop is the only place that would hire him. With a neatly trimmed moustache and stiff posture, Brooks is the embodiment of entrapment. Somewhere inside of Randall there is a ball of livewire energy waiting to explode. It just takes the right person—and moment—to get it out of him. Brooks has done great work in his previous movies, but I think that this role is easily one of his most accomplished works. Leelee Sobieski is one of the most versatile actresses of her generation. Much like Johnny Depp, Sobieski seems to make film choices often based on the material, not the box office revenue. While she's been featured in a few stinkers (did anyone really care about Here On Earth or The Glass House?), Sobieski still manages to rise above the sometimes mediocre material and make her performance something special. It takes a decisively brave actress to go from playing Joan of Arc to a goth chick with six billion body piercings, but Sobieski pulls it off. The film also sports a very eclectic supporting cast, including a funny John Goodman as Jennifer's dad and Carol Kane as her batty mother (why is it troubled children always seem to have over-happy parents?).
I was really surprised at how much I liked My First Mister. It's a movie that doesn't mind just being observant. We actually get to see these two people interact on many different levels; as friends, as enemies, as co-workers and ultimately as two people who really love each other. Don't get the mistaken idea that the film is a traditional Hollywood love story—My First Mister is not about a sexual relationship between and older man and a much younger girl. It's really about what it's like to be lonely, and how finding that one person you connect with can make all the difference in the world. I think that a lot of people (and maybe even YOU) will be able to relate to this film.
If My First Mister makes any major missteps, it's in the contrived last fourth of the film. The movie suddenly tries to throw a curveball that isn't really needed. There is a big emotional scene at the end that feels somehow out of place in the context of this story. However, director Christine Lahti (most notable for her acting role on the hit series Chicago Hope) does a very apt job at just watching these two people be themselves. Unlike most of the teen sludge cramming up video/DVD store shelves, My First Mister doesn't pander to the audience or offer up excrement gags or cheap laughs. It's a movie about people who are searching for something meaningful in a world that sometimes reminds us how alone we sometimes are. Recommended.
My First Mister is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Paramount has produced a fairly good transfer for a film of generally low budget origins. The color patterns and black levels in this transfer all appear to be bright and well proportioned while only the slightest amount of edge enhancement shows up in a few key scenes. Overall, this very pleasing image shows little to no signs of imperfection.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround as well as Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, both in English. Seeing as this is fairly comical drama and not an effects heavy action movie, My First Mister's 5.1 mix is rather subdued. While there are a few instances of surround sound on this track (most notably with the music and rock songs), the bulk of the mix is mainly focused in the front and center speakers. All aspects of the soundtrack are free and clear of excessive distortion. Also included on this disc are English subtitles.
Is it just me or is Paramount really starting to skimp on their extra features? [Editor's Note: Starting?] I mean, let's face it—is it really that tough to throw on a single solitary trailer for the movie, especially if it was just released less than a year ago theatrically? While the exclusion of a trailer really crams my panties, I am happy to report that there is a commentary track by director Christine Lahti included on this disc. Lahti is a bright and intelligent woman who has a lot to say about her first feature film. The main focus here seems to be on the characters and their interaction with each other. However, peppered throughout are some stories about the production and conception of the film. This is a somewhat technical-based commentary, though it's still worth listening to for fans of the film. Sadly, this is the only extra feature available on this disc. Interviews with the stars about their characters would have been interesting…but kids, take it from your Uncle Patrick—dreams don't always come true.
I'm game for anything starring the wonderful Albert Brooks. While My First Mister may not be the actor's best movie, it is one of his best performances. The story may leave a little to be desired, but the interaction and relationship between the two characters makes this a film well worth seeing. Paramount's work on this disc is solid, if a bit half-hearted.
My First Mister is free to go…once it decides to take that silverware out of its face. Case dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary Track by Director Christine Lahti
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