"My First Mister" is the directorial debut of veteran actress Christine Lahti could certainly have been something less interesting than it is. It concerns a plot that has been covered well in the past; two people from far different backgrounds who begin to share a friendship out of the fact that both of them are lonely.
Yet, at least for the first hour or so, I enjoyed not only the casting, but how the actors chose to play the characters. I was also interested in the fact that Lachti and cinematographer Jeffrey Jur chose to play out this character piece in 2.35:1 widescreen instead of 1.85:1. For that first hour, everything clicks. The film stars Leelee Sobieski as Jennifer, a smart, creative girl who just happens to be a goth with plenty of piercings and probably a few tatoos. She is not goth in the traditional, angry movie-sense, but a girl who is alienated, living with a ditzy mother (Carol Kane) and a stepfather (Michael McKean), who doesn't care. I especially liked the design of the house, which seems like normal suburbia, and Jennifer's room, which looked like something out of a David Fincher movie.
Jennifer doesn't seem particularly unsatisfied with her current place, but her mother wants her to have some ambition, so she tells her to go get a job. In the mall, Jennifer spies Randall (Albert Brooks), a men's clothing store manager who goes about his business as if he has no life or concerns outside of his current work. She asks for a job and he refuses at first, but she remains persistent and he eventually starts to believe that she might have potential. He puts her in the backroom - when she comes out on the floor to talk to a customer, he says to her, "For every suit you sell, you're gonna send 30 customers fleeing out of the store." He re-dresses her and she looks dismayed: "I look like a republican!" she groans.
The film, for the most part, is a very pleasant mixture of snappy remark-driven comedy and mild, sincere drama. Brooks is a skilled actor at both; while he doesn't show a dramatic side in many of his comedies, his genuine care for the troubled Jennifer is moving. Sobieski, easily one of the most beautiful, skilled and intelligent of the new legion of actresses, does a fine job giving Jennifer depth and making her sympathetic. She also makes the gradual change from goth realistic.
The film eventually changes into melodrama though; while manipulative (but effectively so - I got a bit teary towards the end) and not a welcome change from the film's first hour, it still works well enough thanks to the the two leads. Other supporting performances aren't quite as interesting - Carol Kane plays - well, her usual role, while McKean isn't allowed to do much.
"My First Mister" was overshadowed by the stronger "Ghost World" upon release late last year, but that doesn't mean this is a picture that should be dismissed. It's not a film without flaws, especially in the last half, but I still found the two lead performances enjoyable enough to carry the movie.
VIDEO: Paramount presents "My First Mister" in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation is one of the studio's finer efforts in recent months, as the transfer presents Jeffrey Jur ("Joy Ride")'s beautiful, rich cinematography marvelously. Sharpness and detail are terrific throughout, as the picture remained wonderfully crisp and well-defined throughout, with particularly nice depth to the image in many scenes.
The only flaw that I noticed during the film was a couple of tiny traces of pixelation. The image remained pleasantly free of edge enhancement, while the print looked mostly clean and clear. No instances of grain were seen and only one or two little specks appeared in a handful of scenes later in the film. While the film's color palette isn't always vibrant, most sequences displayed bold, vivid colors that looked beautifully saturated. Not a flawless presentation, but a very good one, nonetheless.
SOUND: The film's audio is pretty subdued, as expected. While some slight ambience and music are delivered by the surrounds, the majority of the film's audio is delivered by the front speakers. Audio quality is more than pleasant, as the music sounded crisp and warm, while dialogue came through naturally.
MENUS: The main menu provides slight background animation; it's pleasant and appropriate.
Commentary: The only supplement for this DVD is a commentary from director Christine Lahti. This is a very enjoyable track that, while not without a few spaces of silence every now and then, covers most of the aspects of the production. Lahti discusses casting, themes and the visual style of the film, among other production aspects. It's often very interesting to hear Lahti discuss her experiences and what she learned as a first-time director. Maybe not a consistently riveting commentary, but it's an energetic and enjoyable one.
Final Thoughts: "My First Mister" is a very good film that was unfortunately overlooked during its theatrical release. Hopefully, it will gain an audience on DVD. Paramount's DVD edition provides very good audio/video and even a solid supplement in the commentary. Certainly worth a look as a rental.
The Film ***