Released: 19th August
Seen: 4th September
The film series After has been a regular plaything on this blog, every new film that comes out is an exercise in absolute detestable agony largely due to the lead character Hardin Scott, played by Hero Fiennes Tiffin. The sad thing is that Hero seems like a nice enough person but every time he pops up, he plays someone so contemptible that it honestly feels like cruelty every time he’s brought up, so when his newest film First Love popped up on Prime that presented an opportunity. Maybe, just maybe, this will prove why Hero has been hired as a romantic lead and will explain the appeal he seemingly possesses. So, I decided to watch First Love and was hopeful that maybe I would get it… and OK, he’s charming enough, can he pick a good project now?
First Love is split into two key stories, the first being the whirlwind romance between Jim Albright (Hero Fiennes Tiffin) and Ann Matienzo (Sydney Park) which starts off as something sweet and innocent before they eventually have a lengthy break while going to different schools and culminates with more sweet innocence intercut with random sex scenes because apparently, that’s just why you hire Hero Fiennes Tiffin.
The secondary story is the marriage between Jim’s parents, Kay (Diane Kruger) and Greg (Jeffrey Donovan) which is going in the opposite direction when Greg loses his job which in turn requires them to lean more on Kay’s income for several years and intermittently selling their houses in order to downsize, even though they seem to still own the original house they lived in which should mean they’re fine but this is what passes for drama in this ‘film’.
While it might be gauche to compare First Love to After, it’s a little hard to avoid considering both films have the same lead actor, both revolve around a love story and both of them have the feeling of fan fiction put on film. There is one core difference that set them apart, After actually makes its audience feel something… sure, that something is rage but at least rage is a feeling and First Love can’t make its audience feel a goddamn thing.
As a romance, First Love is tepid at best. There is no chemistry, no real reason for these two to be together and no real explanation of why they might want to be in the same room together much less be a couple. They share no real interests or hobbies, there’s no explicit reason they should be together beyond “It’s a romance film, this is what happens in those films” and that’s just kind of boring. Half the time you just have to wonder why they even like each other, the only way sparks could fly between these two is if someone accidentally electrocuted one of them… which might be interesting, so we can’t do that.
To be kind to the two romantic leads, they deliver half-decent performances that aren’t actively annoying most of the time. They’re doing their best with the situation they find themselves in and maybe with a better script/director/everything else they might have managed to make something about this work on some level. There are many things about this film that don’t work, none of it feels like it’s the fault of the actors who are at least trying their best.
Speaking of things that’re being tried, my patience wore thin with the entire subplot involving Greg’s job. Hell, there’s more stuff here about the failure of the relationship between the adults than there is about the first love that gives the film its title. They open the film with Greg being let go and then the rest of the film is him promising he’s going to get a job eventually, the next resume sent in will surely make it happen. There’s nothing wrong with an unemployed character in a film seeking employment for a long time, the job market sucks right now and lots of people who are overly qualified can’t find work… but First Love never does anything with this. It doesn’t use it to make a point about how shit the system is, it doesn’t use it to do anything other than just give Jeffrey Donovan an excuse to mope for an hour and change.
As much as First Love is clearly trying its best to be charming and romantic, it can’t pull it off at all. It splits between its two stories so weirdly that neither one really lands or has anything interesting to offer. Most of the characters we’re forced to follow are as interesting as wallpaper paste only somehow less useful. It’s just a chore to sit through, by the time First Love is done there’s no real sense of joy or catharsis or anything. It’s just done, we can go now, it’s over and we can do something interesting like clip our toenails or read the phonebook.
This isn’t even going into just how technically bad First Love is. The shot composition and editing are awful, the sound feels like they just recorded everything on set without caring about how bad the background noise was going to be (the scenes at the beach are a special kind of auditory hell) and the score is one of the most painfully intrusive scores you will hear. There are clips on TikTok that use loud music to try and dodge copyright that don’t drown out the audio this badly. It reeks of a cheap student film that’s been rushed to complete a deadline, except it’s a feature film released by a real company… OK granted one that also released The Haunting of Sharon Tate so low quality should be expected here, but this should’ve been easy.
First Love is just not good at all, the only reason it’s not a film worth actively hating is that hate would be an emotional response and First Love really doesn’t elicit many of those. It’s a bland film with bland characters and a nothing script that offers nothing of value whatsoever. The only compliment is that you can at least tell the cast isn’t completely useless, but there’s just nothing here that could be enjoyed by any rational person.