First Girl I Loved

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Falling in love for the first time can be wonderful. Hormones and feelings run wild, and the thought of finding an everlasting companion has the heart and mind racing. Often, falling in love for the first time can be bittersweet, cringe-worthy and ultimately devastating. In the 2016 romantic drama film First Girl I Loved, teenage love is explored through the lives of Anne, Clifton and Sasha.

Set in sunny California, the film opens with misfit yearbook editor Anne taking photos of the high school softball game, her lens fixated on the team superstar Sasha. For Anne, developing feelings for another girl does not scare her, but opening up to her best friend Clifton – who harbours feelings for Anne himself – turns sour when he mistakes Sasha for a boy who plays baseball. Realising Sasha plays softball instead of baseball, Clifton calls Anne a dyke and forces himself on her.

Betrayed by a person she considered a best friend, Anne pursues Sasha and fake French accents, in-jokes and incessant texting consume the pair. During a school-night sleepover at Sasha’s house – interrupted sporadically by Sasha’s mother’s chirpy personality – their bubbling sexual tension reaches new heights. Anne and Sasha get into a bar, drink and flirt with older men, then come home and finally give into their desires. When they arrive at school the next morning, Sasha is aloof, and begins texting Clifton, asking if they would like to go on a date. Anne, clueless, calls Sasha out on her unusual behaviour only to discover Sasha is denying any acknowledgement of their friendship or any other involvement, leaving Anne devastated.

Winner of the Best of NEXT Audience Award at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, First Girl I Loved is a coming-of-age tale that explores the anxiety, bravery and heart-break of first love while presenting a contemporary and fresh context. Does it do this? Yes, but to a point.

Easy to watch and comical at times, First Girl I Loved is let down by a watered-down representation of LGBTIQ issues and poor plot choices. Several moments in the story leave you screaming for nuance, a backstory, or even plausible and credible dialogue. In pivotal scenes, the easy option to villainise characters, namely Sasha’s parents, is pursued. However, the film handles the area of sexual consent well, with Anne, Sasha and Clifton each grappling with the consequences of their actions.

Despite her Lorde vibes, Dylan Gelula delivers a captivating performance of a teenager experiencing the highs and lows of falling in love for the first time. If you can take anything from the story, it is Anne’s journey and discovery of self.

Although misguided, First Girl I Loved is a touching and daring film that will make you reminisce about your own teenage years and the struggle to discover identity.

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