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Paramount Classics
Official Site
Director: Christine Lahti
Producers: Mitchell Solomon, Sukee Chew, Anne Kurtzman, Carol Baum, Jane Goldenring
Written by: Jill Franklyn
Cast: Leelee Sobieski, Albert Brooks, Desmond Harrington, Carol Kane, Mary Kay Place, Michael McKean

Rating: out of 5

Goth-girl Jennifer Wilson (Sobieski), who writes her own eulogies, and whose mom (Kane) is so perky that she sings along to tunes from FLOWER DRUM SONG, seeks a job at a men’s clothing store and meets an older man with a very ordered way of life.

Writer Franklyn, heretofore most known for introducing middle America to “yada yada yada,” clearly has good taste, because she likes the movies and books that are near the top of my hit parade—GHOST WORLD, HAROLD AND MAUDE, and AMERICAN BEAUTY. As frequently happens when one emulates what one enjoys, one falls short.

This really, really predictable movie features clueless parents living in their ultra-bland clapboard house. The mother is so horribly chipper that I thought the writer must surely have mother-daughter issues of her own to work out. It’s a shame when people work through these issues via screenwriting instead of sensibly going to therapy... Jennifer retreats to her Goth sanctum of a room, which is a masterpiece of Gotta Be Me that looks like a thousand other kids’ rooms.

Because Jennifer is so alienated, she has absolutely no one to talk to, hence there’s a ton of voiceover, and I don’t much like VO. On the other hand, we get lots of The Partridge Family, and I do like TPF. Go figure.

We also get a fairly calm Albert Brooks, playing Randall Harris, the mister of the title, who takes a chance when he hires Jennifer for his haberdashery, and then even more of a chance when he befriends her. The movie’s title suggests that we might be heading into the potentially icky area of the much-older-male-and-high-school-female relationship, and I’m pleased to report that this is handled fairly well.

Not as believably as Enid’s interest in Seymour in GHOST WORLD, because it’s never really clear why Randall becomes her good friend. It’s suggested that he looks right at her instead of determinedly overlooking her “phase” as her mom and stepdad do. Not as endearingly as in HAROLD AND MAUDE, where Bud Cort’s wacky wooing of Ruth Gordon set the standard for massive-age-difference courtships. And definitely not as snarkily amusingly as in AMERICAN BEAUTY, where the daughter’s disaffection was at least understandable.

As the movie goes on, Jennifer gets less Goth and more peachy skinned, as layer after layer of black eyeliner and black clothing symbolically peel away to reveal an average kid who just needed some new person to be herself around.

Eventually, Randall’s secret comes out—a secret that may explain why he’s been taking these uncharacteristic steps that transcend his narrow lifestyle. This secret leads to the introduction of a new character (Harrington) as well as the age-old morals of the story: “Be thankful” and “Choose life.” Oh what the hell. Randall’s secret is that he’s sick, and frankly it goes downhill fast from here. There was an opportunity, at the point where this mystery is revealed, to unleash the far, far better movie hiding inside MY FIRST MISTER. If, at this point, Randall dropped dead, the movie could’ve explored Jennifer’s changes more interestingly.

Instead, we get such boilerplate schmaltz that it’s a mystery why a smartie like Brooks involved himself in it.

—Roxanne Bogucka, an Action Girl!

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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