leelee sobieski is perfectly cast in My First Mister, at least in its first half. Her big, dead eyes are perfect for playing a sullen goth princess. Unfortunately, this is the worst part of the movie.
When she falls in love with a suit salesman (Albert Brooks), the story gets better, but Sobieski looks lost. She's called on to play cute and edgy, mooning over her cardigan man while protecting her right to be death-obsessed. She can't win.
My First Mister was directed by actor Christine Lahti, who won an Academy Award in 96 for directing a short film called Lieberman In Love.
When a well-liked actor wins an Oscar for directing, it's like a supermodel getting asked to lead a charity drive. But never mind. What's important here is that this story was so much better when Terry Zwigoff directed it as Ghost World. He went for sharp, difficult moments. Lahti goes for safe, tidy feelings.
She and writer Jill Franklyn wisely show Sobieski's character, Jennifer, pursuing a combination of pre-sexual fantasy and genuine love. But then the film gets prissy. As a reward for crawling out of her shell, it gives Jennifer a proper, age-appropriate boy to whom she can transfer her affections.
And it never once allows that the 49-year-old Randall (Brooks) might feel even a glimmer of sexual interest in a 17-year-old who's coming on to him. At least Ghost World gave Steve Buscemi a libido. Lahti relies on Brooks's harassed schlump demeanour to defuse what is actually the heart of the story, the complex, dangerous charge between these two people.
Instead, Randall and Jennifer spend the second half of the movie declaring, in scene after heartwarming scene, exactly what they're feeling and why. These aren't characters. They're tryouts for Oprah.
MY FIRST MISTER directed by Christine Lahti, written by Jill Franklyn, produced by Jane Goldenring, Carol Baum, Sukee Chew and Anne Kurtzman, with Leelee Sobieski, Albert Brooks, Carol Kane and Michael McKean. 109 minutes. A Paramount Classics release. Opens Friday (October 12). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 79. Rating: NN