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Sundance 2021 ‘First Date’ Review: A Sloppy, Dim Slog

Courtesy of Sundance Institute
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Certain zany comedies balance the puerile with the clever, the base with the heady, the low with… if not the high, then at least the medium, finding a sweet spot that makes them delightful, memorable pieces of work. Others instead opt for the dirty, flat, and unceremoniously stupid at nearly every turn — and still others keep every word and moment at that low, low level, all the way through. 

Darren Knapp and Manuel Crosby’s First Date sits firmly in that final category. This is an upsettingly insipid film from beginning to end; a dour slog without a single moment of respite from either slack-jawed idiocy or deeply uncreative rehashes of every ‘coming of age story’ or ‘ribald action comedy’ trope you can imagine. 

The setup finds hapless but affable high school loser Mike (Tyson Brown) pushed by his insufferably cocky best friend into asking out his longtime crush Kelsey (Shelby Duclos). To their surprise, Kelsey gamely accepts his offer, but Mike’s in a pickle: he doesn’t have a car. Naturally, he must have a car, so that he can pick her up in it, for some reason. So he frantically searches online for a cheap, quick option, chooses poorly, and soon finds himself owning a deathtrap sedan that a ton of seedy LA criminals want to get a hold of for various ridiculous reasons. 

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

The rest of First Date follows Mike, Kelsey, and various interchangeable, deeply irritating characters around the city as gangs, cops, and random passersby take interest in the car and insert themselves into the narrative for often incomprehensible reasons. Key examples include some crooked cops, an exhaustingly gauche gang boss, and an elderly couple who somehow convince Mike to let them drive his car for a while before they engage in some perverse exhibitionism. It’s always jaunty, but never pleasant, and certainly never even remotely funny or entertaining. 

The dialogue is brisk, but appallingly shallow, with the types of comebacks and insults that would still feel poorly conceived in a YouTube comments section, much less a Sundance-cosigned piece of independent cinema. No performance is memorable, no shot is interesting, no moment is worth the time or energy it takes to keep watching. Every decision reeks of an overwhelming sloppiness that fails with every passing minute to justify why anyone should bother spending time on this trite, pointless adventure. 

It truly boggles the mind that this was featured at the Sundance Film Festival. If this is any indication of the state of modern American comedy movies, it’s a dire, dire death knell. 

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