First Girl I Loved
Dylan Gelula, Brianna Hildebrand, Mateo Arias, Pamela Adlon, Tim Heidecker, Cameron Esposito
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“… A beautiful portrayal of the joys but especially the fears that come with love when it takes an unconventional form.”
Kerem Sanga’s teen romantic drama, First Girl I Loved is a beautiful portrayal of the joys but especially the fears that come with love when it takes an unconventional form. High school girl and yearbook editor Anne (Dylan Gelula from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) is instantly captivated and head over heels in love with Sasha (Brianna Hildebrand from Deadpool), the star of the softball team. Anne struggles with making sense of her feelings and does so alone as her best friend, Clifton (Mateo Arias) is horrified and heartbroken by her revelation.
The film follows the structure of a teen romance, its first act could even be comparable to the Hilary Duff starring A Cinderella Story about a diner girl who loves the secretly sweet and intellectual star football player. Suffice to say, this film is so much more than that. While being a lesbian has an undeniable social presence, it is still often viewed as taboo, unnatural and shameful. Sanga turns the first love narrative we all know so well on its head by highlighting that gender as a barrier is entirely a social construct.
In a similarly three-dimensional way, First Girl I Loved tackles the issue of date rape and consent. In the case of Anne and her best friend and secret admirer Clifton, it is difficult to determine whether something more sinister occurred between them. When emotions are running high anything can happen, leaving the characters with feelings of rejection but also guilt as the signs of whether their advances and chances at love are welcomed are never clear. There is a murky and terrifying grey area. Between Anne and Sasha, both girls seem to reciprocate the same feelings, however, their intentions and true desires are questioned and covered up. In the character of Sasha, even in the happy moments, there is a real sadness to her demeanour as she is afraid of having her sexuality labelled, or more broadly, of being different.
As the friendship between the girls blossoms and trust is formed, feelings begin to grow. In their initial meetings, both girls are awkward and nervous as they attempt to talk their way around the ‘elephant in the room’ – their mutual attraction. Neither girl is definitively ‘out of the closet’, Sasha continuously worried about her social reputation while Anne is terrified of being rejected. The gay woman (played by comedian Cameron Esposito with real gravity) they see in the night club bar and working at the “Out of the Closet” thrift shop becomes a figure of fear for both girls in different ways. When Sasha tries on Anne’s leather jacket in the shop, she doesn’t want to like how she looks in it because the gay woman is wearing the same one. She shows her to Anne through the corner of the mirror, symbolising that she mirrors qualities that are inside both of them. The character represents everything both girls are but are afraid to openly admit and become. Truthfulness with one’s self, however, is the only way to find happiness – a lesson often professed by the best teen films, and First Girl I Loved is certainly one of them.