High school senior Dave Hodgeman (Dylan O’Brien) is hopelessly in love with the beautiful Jane (Victoria Justice), who only sees him as a friend. Aubrey Miller (Britt Robertson) goes to another school and is stuck in a relationship with a pretentious, narcissistic older guy with whom she has resigned herself to lose her virginity. One night at a party, Aubrey and Dave strike up a conversation that blossoms miraculously into an instant emotional connection. As the week goes by the pair grapple with their feelings for one another and try to overcome an array of obstacles on the path towards a possible future together.
Most movies about teenage sex rarely stray from the path of leering prurience or self-flagellating embarrassment. The First Time opens with a montage of hot young things flirting, making out or withdrawing to the bedroom but quickly establishes that it is not going to be THAT movie. In his second outing as writer-director, Jon Kasdan - son of celebrated screenwriter and director Lawrence Kasdan - segues swiftly into an extended, dialogue-driven first act wherein two flawed but likeable, articulate but acerbic, smart but vulnerable youngsters fall believably in love simply by sharing their hopes and anxieties. What follows is not far removed from a teen version of Before Sunrise (1995), which is no small compliment. Kasdan has crafted a teen movie of great remarkable warmth, depth and sensitivity, a film whose title is cleverly misleading. What The First Time actually refers to is love, as in real, substantial love not just raging adolescent urges.
Which is not to say that the film shies away from the subject of first sexual experience. Indeed, after Aubrey and Dave dance around their feelings for each other, the third act of the movie spins the whole “will they, won’t they” dilemma into a charmingly well-observed vignettes that hits many of the same toe-curlingly awkward, embarrassing notes found in American Pie (1999) or Superbad (2007) without coming across as crass or contrived. It is instead, heartbreakingly real as their moment of intimacy ends in hurt feelings, recrimination and misunderstanding and yet points the way towards real maturity. As a supporting character observes, real love means you find a way to work past certain obstacles, not simply give up when the going gets hard. Those with an aversion towards over-articulate American teenagers may balk at the analytical approach, but Kasdan’s characters grow to learn how often over-thinking a situation can lead to them missing the beauty in life that surrounds them.
As an actor Kasdan appeared in soapy teen drama Dawson’s Creek while as writer contributed to cult favourite Freaks and Geeks. So he knows his subject matter. He punctures a fair few teen movie clichés and with a great deal of wit and wisdom serves up a disarmingly honest look at prevailing attitudes towards sex and relationships. Quietly charismatic leads Dylan O’Brien and Britt Robertson, off cult sexy witch television series The Secret Circle, are wholly engaging while Nickelodeon teen idol Victoria Justice ably inhabits her role as a far more faceted dream girl than commonly depicted in such fare. Without a doubt, this is one of the best teen movies of the past few years.