First Girl I Loved has all the tropes of an up and coming indie teen drama – the type that you would have re-blogged on your angsty Tumblr blog when you were sixteen – and follows in the footsteps of films like Palo Alto and Blue is the Warmest Colour. But, as that sixteen year old would contend, that’s not at all a bad thing.
The film follows high school girl Anne (Dylan Gelula), who falls in love with star softball player Sasha (Brianna Hildebrand) when she interviews her for the school yearbook. When she tells her best friend Clifton, he is hurt and accuses her of leading him on. Like all love triangles, things become complicated and they are caught in a web of miscommunication and sexual disorientation.
It’s not the first time writer-director Kerem Sanga has made a film about teenage subjects, with his film The Young Kieslowski, focused on an unplanned teenage pregnancy. With both films, Sanga has drawn inspiration from stories arising from his own family.
Cinematographer Ricardo Diaz tells the blossoming love story with enchanting neon tones, set against the drab yellow backdrop of Los Angeles. Despite this, the setting feels washed out, and lacks the character that LA has to offer. The focus is on the three lead teenage characters, and their stories are told with empathy and compassion. Sanga attempts to understand them, even if they may not yet understand themselves.
The film attempts to deal with some heavy topics, like consent and homophobia, but they don’t feel like they are given the gravity and attention they deserve. Perhaps mimicking the attention span of its teenage subjects, the film flits all over the place with its ordering of the scenes, thanks to some awkwardly inserted flashbacks. It’s an unusual narrative structure that contributes little but confusion.
Nonetheless, it’s great to see female sexuality being explored in an honest way – actually, it’s great that it’s being explored at all, and is part of a trend towards greater sexual maturity in cinema.
Dylan Gelula stands out as the awkward quirky girl grappling with her sexuality. Support performances from the adult characters, especially Pamela Adlon as Anne’s mother, are also heartfelt, but not given enough screen-time. One character’s wig is distractingly terrible.
First Girl I Loved presents a view of love and longing through naive teenage eyes. Overall, it’s somewhat clunky portrayal of worthy subject matter will give it limited commercial appeal, but it sits comfortably amongst its own brethren of teen drama.