Before the screening of “The First Time” began this past week at Cannes, we were advised that we were about to watch an uncut version of the film. The opening scene, which is a sprawling conversation between our two leads as they discuss everything from their love interests and bad friends, to school teachers and music, had been deemed as too long for audiences. This is a shame, as that opening shot nicely sets up the close connection between Aubrey and Dave, played by Britt Robertson and Dylan O’Brien.
Set over one eventful weekend, “The First Time” follows Aubrey and Dave, high schoolers who meet in an alley behind a Friday night party. The two don’t know each other as they go to different schools, but there is an obvious connection straight away as their lengthy conversation just won’t end, going from the alley, to a walk home, to wine in Aubrey’s bedroom. But Dave has a thing for best friend Jane (Victoria Justice), and Aubrey is in an unsuccessful relationship with Ronny (James Frecheville), so over the course of the weekend the two attempt to help each other out, whilst denying the attraction to each other.
O’Brien, star of MTV’s “Teen Wolf”, was the surprise here, infusing an honest depth in his character that could have easily been one dimensional. Robertson, an alum of the recently cancelled “The Secret Circle”, embraced Aubrey’s quirkiness and was convincing in her portrayal of the high school junior stuck between what she knows and what she wants. But it is Craig Roberts, the young Welsh breakout star of last year’s “Submarine”, who stole the film, playing Dave’s British exchange friend who offers pearls of wisdom and snappy comebacks as he guides Dave through the weekend.
We’ve talked about the perils of TV actors attempting to break into Hollywood, but Robertson and O’Brien would do well to continue picking smart comedies such as “The First Time”. It’s a pleasure to watch a teen-orientated film with well-rounded characters we can root for – here we even feel sorry for Frecheville’s douchebag Ronny and Justice’s Jane, two characters who are obviously keeping our leads apart – and so kudos to writer and director Jonathan Kasdan (“In The Land of Women”), who has created a film that may follow the teen comedy standard, but is also genuinely sweet, funny, awkward and realistic – just as we remember our own teen years.