My First Mister (2001)

Directed by Christine Lahti

My favourite movies are accidents. By this I mean, the ones I stumble upon, have heard nothing about, and for which I have few, if any, expectations.

My First Mister is one of those.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. Apart from the title (which I hated since it sounds like a mid-forties war film set in the Pacific and maybe starring Marlon Brando or someone), I knew nothing about it.

I started watching it as I was doing dishes and quickly found I had left the sink and was planted in from of the TV.

Albert Brooks is Randall and Leelee Sobieski is Jennifer (R and J).

The reason is simple: the first half of the movie is fabulous, largely because of the performance of Leelee Sobieski and the tone the film takes – a bit edgy but not excessively (like, say, a British contemporary gangster film that throws its hard edge edge in your face then grinds it in).

Leelee plays a caustic, depressed 17 year old girl with the usual teenage issues. And she plays it with great wit and humour.

Then there is Albert Brooks and his character Randall.

Again, the first half of the film is the real strength of the movie. In this case, Brooks gives nothing away about the character.

It is understated, and thereby a bit mysterious. Who is this guy? Surely he can’t be this bland? There must be something to him.

And of course, there is.

As expected, Brooks is tremendously funny in his portrayal as the 49 year old clothing salesman who develops a friendship with Sobieski’s character. As the film develops, we see they each have devils they need to conquer which they slowly do through the persistence and friendship of the other.

Leelee Sobieski and Albert Brooks (as J and R).

The movie’s difficulties come out in the latter half of the film as it slowly begins to veer into a standard, template Hollywood ending where, the characters having been established, Brooks and Sobieski must trod through the inevitable.

Both, however, remain brilliant in their performances so to some extent you forgive the film because it’s so enjoyable watching them.

The film goes wrong at a specific place in the film. You can literally identify the shot and say, “There. That’s where it goes wrong.” Without giving the ending away, let’s say it relates to a major development to Brooks character. It’s at this point the film goes south.

It’s frustrating because it doesn’t need to. The story could have developed in a number of ways.

The script, however, chooses sentimentality which undermines all the great work of the characterizations that led up to it.

Despite the disappointing ending, the movie overall is wonderful. It’s worth seeing if only for the performances of Sobieski and Brooks, and their characters’ fascinating relationship.

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