In many ways, First Girl I Loved is your typical high school love story. There’s the electrifying first encounter, the nervous getting-to-know-each-other phase, the pleasurable high of truly being in love, and the obstacles that must be overcome. What distinguishes the film is how it presents all of this, allowing viewers to experience the peaks and troughs of teenage romance.
Anne Smith (Dylan Gelula), photographing a high school softball game for the yearbook, falls for star player Sasha Basanez (Brianna Hildebrand). The pair quickly become friends, a connection that in turn becomes romantic. The process is wonderfully captured with warm tones used to convey the girls’ growing attraction, enhanced by writer-director Kerem Sanga’s variety of methods to depict their communication. Exchanges via text messages morph into voice-overs, each girl clearly reading them in the sender’s voice. Gelula and Hildebrand are wonderful, playing their parts with sincerity. We see them blossom as they discover their sexuality, and the painful realisation of what being gay in modern society could mean.
Homophobia is, of course, a theme in the film. Anne tries to tell her best friend Clifton (Mateo Arias) that she loves a girl, but is simply met with disbelief and the misguided perception that their close friendship was going to lead to something more romantic. It’s an eye-opening experience for anyone fortunate enough to not have experienced this form of prejudice: words can hurt and stereotyped views are no better. The film also touches on the subject of consent, but doesn’t go far enough with it, as it should.
The core narrative is punctuated by memories in the form of flashbacks—structurally interesting, though at times they make the story hard to follow. There’s the pivotal coming-out scene as mentioned above, but it’s fragmented, with viewers never seeing the scene in its entirety in one go. Instead of receiving the full impact of the scene, the audience is left to work out what is happening, and how it relates to the prior scene.
It’s after Anne sleeps over at Sasha’s place where the film really stumbles. Characters make seemingly sudden and inexplicable decisions that are supposed to drive the third act. Some of these choices simply don’t ring true, not because of the act itself, but because the necessary narrative elements aren’t established early enough.
Sweet and heartfelt, First Girl I Loved might not have a groundbreaking narrative, but the chance to relive being young and in love is hard to pass up.
THE REEL SCORE: 6/10