Leelee Sobieski delivers the best performance of her career in Christine Lahti's
MY FIRST MISTER. Both funny and touching, Sobieski plays Jennifer -- she
prefers to be called simply J -- a character who's the complete opposite of the
leader of the math nerds she played in NEVER BEEN KISSED. Like the highly
acclaimed GHOST WORLD, MY FIRST MISTER concerns the world of rebellious teens.
But for my money, MY FIRST MISTER is a much more accessible and successful
J is an angry and lost teen without friends of any age. Our first glimpse of
Sobieski is a shock, since we think of her as the sweet girl-next-door type.
She is dressed from head to toe in black, has most of her body pierced and
metalled and is covered in tattoos. With a pair of binoculars, she uses them to
spy with one end and to distort and make fun of her world with the other end.
Having long since given up on life, 17-year-old J finds her salvation in a
clothing store owner, Randall (Albert Brooks). She calls him "boss man" and
"sir" at first but later goes with just R. With great chemistry together,
Brooks as the supportive straight man and Sobieski as the needy and sarcastic
jokester, they form a relationship that's more than paternal but less than
lovers. Certainly everyone, especially those at her favorite coffee place
(Bourgeois Pig), figure that, at 49, he must be her father. She has a wacky
mother and a taciturn stepfather (Carol Kane and Michael McKean) as well as a
freeze-dried hippie, biological father (John Goodman), but she's never been able
to communicate with any of them.
When R gives J a job in his store, he forces her to make herself more
presentable. After a painful sequence watching her remove her body metal, we
witness J's transformation from heavy metal rebel to a bit more sedate teen.
Costume designer Kimberly Tillman is careful to give her a black look that shows
she has changed but far from completely or necessarily permanently.
Jill Franklyn's script is sharp and dead-on in its humor and its pathos. "I'm
old. I'm George Burns," R tells J when he tries to convince her that he's too
old for her. "Who's George Burns?" she asks in reply. In truth, J and R are
soul mates. Neither has any friends, and both have been miserable until they
formed their bond. Other than the age and clothes, the main difference between
them is that J contemplates suicide and engages in self-mutilation.
Lahti has a gifted touch with her material. We sympathize with both J and R,
but we never feel manipulated by any cheap theatrics. You will laugh, you may
cry and you will certainly be touched by this unusual story of these two, new
MY FIRST MISTER runs 1:49. It is rated R for "language and some sexual
material" and would be acceptable for teenagers.
Copyright © 2001 Steve Rhodes