In the current cinematic climate there have been leaps and bounds made in the field of LGBTQI cinema. Who could have predicted ten years ago that a film about a gay African American would win Best Picture and some of the decade’s finest films would have open and proud explorations of the vast, changing nature of sexuality. With his second feature film, Kerem Sanga has added another feature to the ever growing list, with this sweet and truly empathetic look at that strange and daunting time in life when the bud of sexuality begins blooming.
Anne (Dylan Gelula, who at the right angle looks strikingly like Lorde) is working on her high school’s yearbook, a duty of which is to photograph a softball game. At one fateful game a girl catches Anne’s eye and almost instantly a crush forms. The girl in question is Sasha (Brianna Hildebrand), a shy softball player whose overbearing mother seems to be holding her back from being who she truly is. The news that Anne has a crush on a girl comes as quite a shock to the few people she tells, including her best friend Cliff (Mateo Arias), and in the heady days of her youth a romance with Sasha begins to form.
Films about first love can go a few ways; when they work the genre can deliver hammer blows to the heart like nothing else but when they fall flat it always seems like a wasted opportunity. First Girl I Loved is a sweet little entry into the genre, which captures perfectly the giddy highs and little moments of disbelief that occur when you first develop real and lasting feelings for someone. Yet it never reaches any grand moment of insight or pathos; individual moments ring out with a touching truth, but not a lot else.
The film is carried on the shoulders of its two leading ladies and for the most part they succeed. Dylan Gelula is a very promising presence on screen who we will hopefully see a lot more of in the coming years. Credit it due especially to Hildebrand, last seen as Deadpool’s moody cohort, who does her best trying to act alongside the year’s least convincing wig.
What holds this film back is the vagueness of what it’s trying to say. Writing as a straight male, it’s not my place to say what is or isn’t relevant to the story of a lesbian first love, but through a critical view there isn’t anything revelatory or even that profound here. The project feels just like a first time filmmaker who got a little overwhelmed. Just like its main character, the film seems incomplete and unsure of itself. There are a lot of plot points and scenes that don’t seem to pay off, and one character in particular has no detectable character arc.
First Girl I Loved is a perfectly honeyed love story with moments that evoke a very sweet nostalgia of that first serious crush we hopefully all had. While not able to overcome the inexperience of its director, there are enough genuinely touching moments brought to life by Gelula and Hildebrand to make this a sweet and memorable trip. If nothing else, it’s heartening to see another entry into the new and strong movement to bring the LGBTQI stories around us to the screen. These are important entries into cinematic canon which we can all be grateful are finally being told.
First Girl I Loved is in cinemas from 29th June through Arcadia Films.