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Edmonton International Film Fest 2019: “First Love” Review

Michael Masarof’s First Love has its endearing moment, but lacks depth and feels claustrophobic

The protagonists of Michael Masarof’s debut feature, First Love, don’t look much like twins and don’t act much like them, either.

Whenever struggling author Matthew Rossetti (Aaron Costa Ganis) mentions that the notorious actress Lisa Russo (Annie Heise) is actually his twin sister, Rebecca, he gets skeptical looks and disbelieving laughs. The other characters’ dubiety is easily shared by the audience. Matthew is a harmless Nick Kroll-lookalike whose flirtation strategies include offering Tums to girls at bars and then talking to them about War and Peace (which he’s not actually reading). Meanwhile, Rebecca is a “former child star and current trainwreck,” seen variously sinking into a full Jacuzzi tub wearing a red silk bathrobe, chain-smoking on the toilet, and inquiring offhand of her and Matthew’s mother, “How is that fat bitch?”

It’s the essential tension between the siblings, who haven’t been in contact for the past fifteen years, that lies at the heart of the film. Recently separated from his wife, Matthew has written a tell-all memoir about his and Rebecca’s childhood, and come to LA looking to publish — but before he can, he’ll need to get his sister’s consent. He tracks Rebecca down in the beachside hotel where she’s holing up after a tabloid-ready car accident. Alone, restless, and irritable, Rebecca bides her time by abusing her agent over the phone — you’ve never heard the word “babe” used quite so pointedly before — and sleeping with a Jordanian hotel employee called Kalil (Amin El Gamal). Both twins’ lives are unmoored, and it’s Matthew’s hope that the publication of this memoir will get them back on track. Unfortunately, his sister’s selfish, erratic nature throws a snarky wrench into his plans. 

Clocking in at just 80 minutes, First Love is short but not quite sweet. I wanted to connect more with the story than I did; as much as Rebecca’s frequent savage outbursts were fun to watch, in a secondhand-embarrassment kind of way, they soon became fairly repetitive, with her fiery dialogue not always hitting its mark.

Matthew’s character felt less well-developed than his sister’s, perhaps intentionally, considering that her actions and generally volcanic nature seem to be the cause of many problems in both of their lives. But this made it harder to feel like we knew him, and therefore sympathize with him, as he desperately tried to negotiate with his iced-coffee-swilling publisher, get Rebecca’s signature on the contract, and seduce a quirky, beautiful Swede (Malin Barr) with the aforementioned Tums. 

While the film has its endearing moments and is occasionally very beautiful, featuring a sparse, guitar-strummy soundtrack and some moody shots of Venice Beach, it ultimately feels claustrophobic without being intimate. The title of Matthew’s book is “Goodbye to Everyone But Us” — and unfortunately, this complex dynamic between the twins even manages to exclude the audience.

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