Sundance offers the chance for many first-time filmmakers to share their films. First Date is the premier feature film from directors Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp. It is a film that doesn’t fit nicely into any single genre, rather it mixes several together. The results sometimes work, but not always.
Mike, a somewhat shy high schooler, finally works up the courage (with some help from his friend) to ask out his heartthrob neighbor, Kelsey. She is also the target of a local jock with a great car. Mike, sadly, has no car, so for the date he gets conned into buying a junker ’66 Chrysler. It turns out, there are a lot of people interested in that car, including a pair of sheriff deputies, a crazy cat lady, and a band of bickering criminals/book club members. The problems prevent him from picking up Kelsey, who ends up going for a drive with the jock. When Mike and Kelsey finally do get together, their mutual attraction begins to come through, but then more problems with all of the bad guys cranks up the story again.
In press notes, the directors liken the film to “Kinda like mixing all the different sodas at the soda fountain. You’re not supposed to do it but damn, it’s a sugar rush.” I found that a very apt analogy. We can easily see some of the influences they want to add to the mix. The group of crooks have the same kind of incompetence we remember from Fargo. There is a body count that would fit into a Tarantino film. There’s the romance developing between Mike and Kelsey. There are some car chases.
I think it should be noted that there is a difference between mixing all the sodas, and the blending that happens to make a fine wine. The results of soda mixing may be enjoyable to a point, but it will ultimately never be quite as enjoyable as something crafted with a clear goal in mind.
There are parts of this story that work very well—especially the scenes where Mike and Kelsey got to talk to each other. The writing in those scenes show a good feel for the early stage of a relationship—of two people who like each other, but aren’t sure where it’s going. Scenes where the bad guys bicker aren’t quite at the same level, but still the dialogue and relationships are entertaining.
The crime/action part of the film doesn’t show the same level of craft, perhaps in part because this part seems so outlandish. Toning down some of the violence would have benefitted the overall film. When the action part of the film takes over, the interesting relationships that have been developed get pushed into the background.
One of the good things about festivals giving opportunities to new filmmakers is that it gives them a chance to try things out. They get to try mixing the sodas. Maybe they’ll discover the flavors that do or don’t work together, and build from there.