Jacqueline Bisset is a Classy “sure thing” in Comedic Awkward Teen Drama
DIRECTED BY JAMES NEILSON/1969
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: SEPTEMBER 5, 2023/KL STUDIO CLASSICS
No sooner do we meet The First Time’s central triumvirate of dorky young dudes than one of them has to leave. So much for their summer of dopey pedaling around the ‘burbs on their bicycles looking to leer at anything in a miniskirt. They’re hopeless teenage horndogs, and the movie knows it. Do they? Well….
Meet Kenny (Wes Stern), Mick (Rick Kelman), and Tommy (Wink Roberts). Awkward as all heck, they’re Leave It to Beaver boys in a post-The Graduate world. A bit oily in the faces, a lot of greasy hair. Their faces scrunch and contort whenever they enunciate. In other words, they’re right at home in this movie’s world of weirdly old teenagers.
Immediately upon hitting “play” on the new KL Studio Classics Blu-ray disc, I realized that this wasn’t my first time with The First Time. I’d seen this before, years ago, on late night local television. At least, in part. The opening titles sequence came flooding back. In it, we see the fellas stopped on their bikes and eying up a woman’s legs with all the subtlety of the panting, whistling wolf of Tex Avery’s Red Hot Riding Hood. Their gawking is right out of The Benny Hill Show, leading me to assume both then and now that The First Time will be a comedy. It is not.
No sooner does the dispatched Kenny return from his time in the Niagara Falls area than he comes back bragging about his sexual conquests at a business called Rosie’s. We don’t need the scene in which we see him overhearing a man namedrop Rosie’s house of ill-repute to clarify that Kenny is full of crap. Nevertheless, in this three-way friendship that revolves heavily around Kenny, Mike, and Tommy lying to each other about nonexistent love lives, the other two convince Kenny to take them to Rosie’s. This, of course, does not go well. The nonstop generic groovy 1969 music score does everything it can to compensate for the unending string of too-long establishing shots and strolling around and absolutely not going to Rosie’s.
After wandering the picturesque Niagara Falls (the whole thing was shot in Ontario, which is really convenient for their jaunt) for the first half of the movie and never finding they’re looking for, they do find Anna (Jacqueline Bisset). Anna is older and infinitely classier than the boys but also desperate enough in her own momentary need that she takes them up on their offer to share a hotel room. She’s thinking sleep; they’re not. Because they met Anna in a bar, that’s reason enough for them to assume that she’s a high-class call girl. With her nestled away in bed, the guys, out by the vending machines, negotiate who will go first with her. It’s all as painful as it sounds.
Imagine Y tu mamá también if it didn’t go anywhere until maybe the last few minutes. That’s the dynamic of The First Time. Unexpectedly, the guys’ individual visits with Anna result in some of the film’s most effective moments. It’s with her that they finally come clean about their lives, their anxieties, and yes, their virginities. Rick Kelman, after being a borderline irritating dweeb the whole time, is a minor revelation in his dramatic scene in the bedroom. Wes Stern as the most central character, Kenny, resembles a de-aged Friends-era David Schwimmer. Both the actor and the character are the least cringe-inducing of the three guys.
The presentation of The First Time on this new Blu-ray from KL Studio Classics may be the first time in a very long while that the movie has looked and sounded this good. It definitely didn’t look and feel like this all those years ago when I caught it late at night on broadcast television. Unfortunately, there are no bonus features to speak of aside from an old theatrical trailer for the film bearing the title “You Don’t Need Pajamas at Rosie’s.” That alternate title is about as bumbling and cringeworthy as film’s three leads.
The First Time is something of a meandering mess until Jacqueline Bisset enters the picture. That, though, isn’t for a while. The guys then spend the rest of the film trying to enter Jacqueline Bisset, who takes this entitled and doltish behavior in stride as it in increasing revealed to her. Were the guys a shred less meager and sorry than presented, The First Time would be a crashing failure. As it is, it surprises by not being a thoroughly disposable watch. It certainly feels to be on the early end of the “young guys looking to get laid” sub-subgenre of teen comedy. In this case, eventually forgetting to be funny proves to be its surprise virtue.