Sundance 2021 Review: First Date

Directors & Writers: Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp
Starring: Tyson Brow, Shelby Duclos, Jesse Janzen, Ryan Quinn Adams, Angela Barber, Dave Reimer, Nicole Berry, and Samuel Ademola
Cinematographer: Manuel Crosby

Most of us remember our teenage years as occasional fun times with friends and trying to navigate our way through life by finding our place in the world. Buried under all the joys of high school and self-discovery are extreme awkward moments when it comes to dating. In Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp’s First Date, these experiences come to life through Mike (Tyson Brown), a high schooler who has a deep crush on his classmate Kelsey (Shelby Duclos). After finally developing the courage to ask her out on a date, Mike realizes that as far as first dates go, easy it shall not be. And just as things keep going south, they get even worse when he becomes the target of a criminal gang, a deranged cat-lady, and two cops.

First Date plays like two movies most of the time. The first is a low-budget film centered around a teen who just wants to impress his date but runs into small troubles at every possible turn. There’s a sweet, awkward and fun story there. However, Crosby and Knapp managed to bring a bit of charm onto the big screen just to completely overshadow it by the annoyances of the script. And that’s where the second film within this film comes in to play. It’s more over-the-top, and it’s violently audacious, unfunny and completely unnecessary, which left me to feel annoyed and uneasy for ninety percent of its runtime.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

For one, the troubles that Mike endured to get to his date start out as realistic then venture off into insanely improbable. But that’s not the problem. Creativity is always welcome, and the writing/directing duo keep their feet on the gas when it comes to that. What’s particularly annoying about this script is that they chose insensitive and dangerous scenarios as segments for humor. But I didn’t laugh. Seeing a young black teen (who’s just trying to take his crush on a date) get shot at by police and chased by trashy gang members all night long isn’t funny to me. Truth be told, it felt recycled, mundane, and in poor taste.

Even if these eye-rolling details caused me no aggravations, First Date has serious tone and directional issues. Squirming one minute to giggling the next, but then having those emotions cut off only to become completely irritated was no fun time. Also, there are certain choices that left me scratching my head. During one of the biggest moments of the film, a shootout between the police and the gang occur with Mike and Kelsey caught in the middle. The audience’s attention is completely directed away from the two leads for flying bullets and their targets- a decision I can’t wrap my head around. Up until this point, the film had consistently done a nice job showcasing Mike’s perspective throughout all the mayhem. But the moment the big showdown occurs, it vanishes as if it’s no longer important to the film’s narrative.

Ultimately, Crosby and Knapp’s first feature was a let down due to burying a great story about the joys of dating during awkward teen years for an outlandish day of run-ins with drug dealers, gangs and corrupt cops. It’s such a shame because Tyson Brown plays Mike with such understated conviction as he navigates through his first date with innocence and poise. If anything, this was a missed opportunity to further explore the clumsiness of high school & dating as well as exploring underlying themes like peer pressure, innocence, etc… Honestly, anything other than this would’ve been fine.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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