There’s a reason actors’ (and not directors’) names are used to sell a movie. Although a film ultimately succeeds or fails based on work behind the camera, it’s the faces in front of it which engage the audience’s emotions. Good actors giving solid, realistic performances can often make a mediocre film better than it has any right to be. Take My First Mister.
See Leelee Sobieski, stripped of her corn-fed blondness and her halo of unspoiled innocence, effectively embody an alienated goth whose navel-gazing intelligence keeps her in stupefying isolation. See Albert Brooks, eschewing his usual know-it-all humor and defensive irony, walking in the shoes of a man who has so cushioned himself from life that softness itself has become suffocating. See Sobieski’s Jennifer meet Brooks’ Randall when she takes a job at his upscale men’s clothing store. Then watch them improbably bond, and (what else?) change each other’s lives for the better.
But look closely, because Sobieski (Joy Ride, A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries) and Brooks (Broadcast News, Defending Your Life) aren’t merely playing against type. These intelligent performers embrace not the glib, melodramatic script from sitcom writer Jill Franklin (“It’s Like, You Know …”) but dig deep to touch the inner lives of their isolated characters.
Here’s where a good director comes in, and it helps immensely that she, too, is a performer. In her feature-film directorial debut, Birmingham-born Christine Lahti (Housekeeping, Swing Shift) demonstrates not just a perceptive, unfussy visual style, but also an extraordinary touch with her fellow actors. My First Mister is loaded with familiar faces (Carol Kane, John Goodman, Michael McKean, Mary Kay Place), but like the leads, these performers drop their familiar comic personas and do what most actors dream of: They embrace a character and disappear in the process.
Opens Friday exclusively at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, W of Telegraph). Call 248-542-0180.
Visit the official My First Mister Web site at paramountclassics.com/mister.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.