My First Mister
Christine Lahti, as an actress renowned for her intelligent, quirky performances in precious movies like 1987's Housekeeping and David E. Kelley's eccentric television series Chicago Hope, hoards all the quirkiness, preciousness and eccentricity she can muster in her debut as a feature film director, but unfortunately smothers dead any intelligence with an unrelenting pillow of sentimentality. Much like Terry Zwigoff's sleeper hit Ghost World (2001), Lahti's My First Mister (2001) concerns an unlikely, quasi-romantic relationship between a disaffected teenage girl (in this case a Goth loner played by Leelee Sobieski) and a hopelessly square and lonely middle-aged man (in this case an upscale retail manager with an annoying secret played by Albert Brooks). But where Zwigoff cannily cast his feature debut in a hip, detached aura of cool, Lahti affects an insecure wackiness that, just when it begins to emerge from its awkward desperation as halfway likable, goes horribly, horribly wrong (as in Patch Adams or Love Story wrong, God forbid). The final third of My First Mister is drenched in such unremitting and audacious manipulation it has actually been known to elicit howls of disbelief and horror from normally jaded, seen-it-all critics who want to appreciate the reliably solid lead performances but are rather preoccupied by the act of a much-needed vomiting. Also with Carol Kane, Michael McKean and John Goodman, all of whom overact their precious, irritating supporting parts. The irredeemable script was written by one Jill Franklyn, whose cult status as the author of Seinfeld's "The Yada Yada" episode must be swiftly revoked. Paramount's DVD release offers a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, with an unlistenable commentary by Lahti during which she sincerely aspires for her film to heal relationships between estranged fathers and daughters. Trailer, keep-case.