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Sundance 2021 Review: 'First Date' isn't what you're expecting

Directing duo Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp send us on a date we'd rather forget.

Tyson Brown and Shelby Duclos in First Date movie
(Image: © Tyson Brown and Shelby Duclos appear in First Date by Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp, an official selection of the NEXT section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Manuel Crosby.)

Our Verdict

I’m glad this car wreck of a movie is over! I thought we’d see the struggles men face to impress a girl! Instead I watched a Black kid get shot at multiple times and abused by cops! And apparently I was supposed to laugh? Yeah, no thanks.

For

  • 💕 Getting the girl.
  • 💕 Solid creative concept.
  • 💕 Good character development.

Against

  • 💕 Police brutality.
  • 💕 Attempting to find humor in traumatic experiences doesn't work here.

First Date is part of our Sundance Film Festival 2021 coverage. You can find all of our reviews here.

Going into Sundance this year, being it my first, I was incredibly excited (and determined) to watch every film with a Black lead, as it's the very thing that I pay attention to the most. I've been "rooting for everyone Black" before Issa Rae said the famous statement, that so many other Black movie watchers and entertainment consumers have embedded in their brains no matter the occasion, movie or tv series. But after watching the film by the newcomer directing duo Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp, I'm not so sure this was such a great move, as it led to quite a few disappointments. With First Date being one of the many!

If you're unfamiliar with the film that premiered recently at Sundance 2021, First Date stars Mike (Tyson Brown) a High School kid with a crush on a girl he can barely utter enough words too, let alone ask on a date. (Despite him "summoning the courage to ask her out" being apart of the film's Sundance description.) If you think it's bad enough that this kid can't even ask his date out, it unfortunately gets worse. When his date, Kelsey (Shelby Duclos) cuts Mike some slack after noticing he's too damn nervous to ask her out, she takes the lead and tells him to pick her up at 7pm.

But when the pressure of asking his crush out finally dwindles, the anxiety sets in as he realizes "dude where's my car"! The High School kid who got lucky enough for his crush to ask him out is also carless! Which he's determined to fix on his own, instead of fessing up to his girl and embarrassing himself even further. Luckily, Mike has almost enough cash saved up to purchase a car on such sort notice. Because what High School kid doesn't have $2,700 just laying around waiting to be spent on a car for a once in a lifetime chance to date their high school sweetheart? 

Mike gets duped into buying a clunker ’65 Chrysler. To make matters worse, the used, broken down car brings more problems than he bargained for.

What sounds like a great story on paper, ends up being an incredibly ridiculous story on screen. One that Black viewers may have to cringe through if they decide to watch until the very end. Mike not only ends up in an incredibly tough spot with a criminal gang who is (of course) looking for the very car Mike was sold, but he also ends up running into a pair of cops, a vengeful cat lady, and an old sweet couple who once drove the ’65 Chrysler in their past life. 

Neither of these run-ins are positive, and they each come with their own set of problems for Mike, and eventually Kelsey, to sort out if they wanna make it home alive to finally go on their first date.

What I thought would be a purely entertaining, dark comedy and coming-of-age thriller (their words, not mine) that would showcase what it’s like for men to worry about ensuring their first date was perfect, ended up leaning way too heavily on the very issues Black kids are currently facing today. Police brutality, being shot at by white folks before questions are asked, and getting accidentally caught up in a drug feud over a car doesn't necessarily ring "good time" or "haha that was funny" to me. 

While I get the intentions, this Black mom isn't impressed. I often find myself wondering why Black characters are the face of abuse, and none of these scenarios screamed "we'll laugh about this in a few years, once it's over". If you ask me, Mike should have just saved the $3,000 he spent on this car and walked to his date's house. Hell, he spent more money on a car trying to impress her, than on the date he so badly wanted.

Of course, maybe it's just my biases that cloud my judgement on this one. If you enjoy a good shoot out, and a story that eventually "ends well"—despite a few casualties—then maybe, just maybe you'll be able to appreciate the crazy ride First Date takes you on. But if you're anything like me, then you can pass on this one if it gets picked up and released to the public, I won't be mad either way.You can, however, note that I did warn you!