My First Mister

Depressive, multi-pierced goth Leelee Sobieski and uptight store manager Albert Brooks befriend each other and learn Valuable Life Lessons. Oh, brother. My First Mister sounds intolerable, but hold on a sec. The movie — crappy and sappy as it often is (let’s start with the awful title) — benefits massively from the two leads it’s lucky enough to have. It can be enjoyed by fans of Brooks or Sobieski (I’m a fan of both; do the math); the rest of the movie can be easily ignored.

And there’s so very much to ignore. The utter patness of pretty much everything in the script. The way Brooks’ sad-sack but quietly witty character is given not one but two plot-shaking revelations. The way Sobieski’s character morphs from a surly, Plath-reading goth to a more tastefully clad young lady — the change is roughly akin to Ally Sheedy’s shift from mope-goth to well-scrubbed girl with a frickin’ ribbon in her hair in The Breakfast Club. The way the script gets well-nigh everything about the goth scene wrong, from the music to the hang-outs to the fact that Sobieski must be the only mope-goth in history not to chain-smoke cloves.

So what recommends this movie? Albert Brooks and Leelee Sobieski. That really is all you need. Sobieski is working with a script without the slightest whisper of deeper-than-surface understanding of goth, but she brings a grumbly goth sensibility to her early scenes anyway. And even when she pretties up near the end, we accept it as her way of progressing to a new form of individuality — she still dresses primarily in black and visits graveyards. Brooks is betrayed by the script eight ways to Sunday, but he brilliantly triumphs over it. Even in the midst of the mawkish plot turns, he’s as hilarious as ever — he does one of the funniest spit takes in the history of spit takes, and he invests each line with a distinctly Brooksian dry wit that makes it sound written expressly for him.

The moment Brooks and Sobieski meet in Brooks’ clothing store, the movie had my enthusiastic permission to be just them talking in a room for two hours, or six hours, or whatever. Unfortunately the movie doesn’t pan out that way. But Brooks and Sobieski start with some wonderfully intuitive and combative rapport — if he were younger or she older, it’d be the beginning of a beautiful romance — and gradually thaw towards each other, building mutual respect, yada yada. The script requires that, but it would mean nothing if we didn’t feel it, and their friendship is so bizarre and unlikely that, as enacted by Sobieski and Brooks, it feels not only plausible but inevitable.

Brooks helps Sobieski get her own apartment — a nice, roomy crib with no roomies, on what she makes helping out at the store? Gimme a break. Sobieski also has cartoonish divorced parents: Carol Kane as her insanely chipper mom (whose boyfriend is played with maximum smarm by Michael McKean), John Goodman as her ’60s-throwback dad. We get it: she had little or no helpful parental guidance, and gets what she needs from Brooks. The daughterless Brooks, in turn, plays daddy to Sobieski. Late in the game, Sobieski meets a figure from Brooks’ past, and, well, let’s not go there. Though well-played by Desmond Harrington, the character is a little much — the movie seems to be racing towards an uplifting, Tuesdays with Morrie finale, throwing credibility screaming over the side. Yet I’m proud to have this disc in my collection, because I’ll never get tired of watching Brooks and Sobieski discover that they’ve never met anyone like one another. Even the sappily-written scenes involving Brooks and Sobieski shine just because they involve Brooks and Sobieski. The actors earn the couple of salty drops you may shed at the end — the script sure doesn’t.

Explore posts in the same categories: drama

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