First Date (Sundance 2021) review – a wild ride of a night out from new names to watch out for

By Alix Turner
Published: February 1, 2021
First Date (Sundance 2021) review - a wild ride of a night out from new names to watch out for


The story of Mike trying to make his first date with Kelsey work out, very entertaining and unpredictable rather than strictly funny throughout. Sharply written and perfectly delivered by all.

First Date has a title like a rom-com and a description that led me to expect a how-badly-can-things-go-wrong comedy like The Hangover. Neither of those is right: instead, this is an almost perfectly written comic drama that resists categorization; one that will either slip under the industry’s radar or signal things to come for some new stars and directors. I hope it’s the latter, and I hope First Date is released in cinemas everywhere.

Shy Mike (Tyson Brown) has never had the nerve to ask out tough Kelsey (Shelby Duclos), his neighbor and classmate, but his friend has got her number for him and talked him into it. However, in order to take her out, he figures he needs a car and in desperation buys a run-down ‘65 Chrysler. But why do the police not leave him alone (not to mention an anarchic book club/criminal gang)? And will Kelsey forgive him for turning up late?

First Date was written, directed, and produced by Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp (along with three other producers including their friend, the notorious Lucky McKee), neither of whom have directed a feature film before. Crosby was also responsible for cinematography (and partly editing and music too), which has been a key feature in both directors’ background, and it shows here; not because any of the film looks flashy or peppered with interesting techniques, but the opposite: without any need for showing off, the whole delivery simply looks as though the team knows what they’re doing.

Neither of the two young stars has acted in feature films either, especially surprising as both deliver such natural performances. Apart from the brief prologue, this is Mike’s story, and Tyson Brown carries it off unselfconsciously, giving his character the right degree of innocence without being utterly naïve, and savvy without being streetwise.

It’s in the quirky-yet-still-believable secondary characters where the Coen brothers’ influence shows. Sergeant Davis (Nicole Berry) could easily have been played by Frances McDormand’s understudy, and had similar firm delivery, though with less warmth. The crooks were marvelously varied, some inept, some unremittingly shouty, and some who are more interested in literature. Throw in a retired couple, a hysterical wife and the teenagers’ (completely contrasting) parents and the ensemble brings unpredictable humor to the drama.

First Date is a fast-paced film that moves smoothly from laddish comedy of manners through get-the-girl romance and crime drama, via absolute chaos (I’m reminded of First Love now) and the most entertaining gun battle I’ve seen since Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire. I loved it – can you tell? – and would give it the highest rating at my disposal if it wasn’t for the somewhat confusing opening scenes. Mike and Kelsey are a couple with such promise that I’d love to see fans writing their own spin-off comics. As for Manuel Crosby and Darren Knapp: here’s hoping they haven’t peaked with their first film.