“First Girl I Loved” follows two high school girls infatuated with love and one another

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First Girl I Loved premiered this weekend at the Sundance Film Festival as one of several films about LGBT women screening at the festival. That alone speaks well for the future of lesbian cinema in 2016, but the movie itself is sure to divide opinions. Nonetheless, it’s an intriguing watch, fit for Sundance.  

Anne (Dylan Gelula of Chasing Life and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) is our 17-year-old protagonist with a love for plaid and ripped jeans. Anne’s best friend is Clif (Mateo Arias), who is harboring a pretty intense crush on her. But unfortunately for Clif, right from the film’s get-go it’s clear Anne is completely enamored with Sasha (Brianna Hildebrand of the upcoming Deadpool), who’s the star of her softball team and an overall star student at their LA high school. Nothing about these circumstances is going to be easy on any of the three.

One of the film’s earliest scenes shows Anne watching Sasha do her thing on the softball field, the gay bells obviously ringing between her ears. Luckily for her, she has to get to know Sasha as part of her duties for the yearbook club. Where better to interview her than in her own home? Very quickly, they fall into a comfortable conversation that goes on for hours. And even though I’m almost positive Anne broke the journalism code of ethics by asking Sasha if she has a boyfriend, it was worth it just to see these two act like dorks around each other. By the time they say their goodbyes, they’re definitely flirting.

first-girl-i-lovedvia Sundance

It’s too bad Clif can’t share in Anne’s joy. He just can’t believe she never suspected he’s into her. He’s mad that she has a crush at all. Little does he know at the time that it’s on a girl. He then makes his intentions clear by kissing Anne, who pushes him off with a look of disappointment on her face. It’s at that point that we’re pulled away from this scene, as we’ve been before and will be again. In its totality, it’s the most problematic scene of the whole movie.

Back in Anne and Sasha land, these two are texting each other nonstop while Sasha heads for her next game. Despite being surrounded by teammates, Sasha doesn’t seem to be close to any of them. Or anyone, really. Add to that her body image issues and her obsession with being the best at everything and you know she’s dealing with a lot of pressure. In Anne, she finds a safe haven from all that. So much so that when she makes a play that costs her team their game, it’s Anne she calls for comfort. And being the “genius” she is (but don’t call her that!), Anne says all the right things.

They just get closer from there. A lot more texting follows, in case you’d forgotten this is a movie about teenagers, but fortunately, they also interact in person. Like the time Sasha dropped her good girl image to sneak into a club with Anne. She wasn’t too happy to see a guy hit on Anne there, but I’m pretty sure she forgot all about that when she and Anne kissed at length in the middle of the dance floor. I have to say, it was quite beautiful in its innocence.

I don’t think Sasha saw it that way, though, because it doesn’t take long for gay panic to set in and for her to swear Anne to secrecy. Also, suddenly it makes sense to accept Clif’s request of a date. Oh, did I forget to mention that? The jerk asked out the girl he knew his best friend was crushing on.

How’d he know that? Because during that aforementioned fragmented scene, Anne explains that her crush is on a girl. But that only came after one of hardest to watch straight sex scenes I’ve ever seen. All you need to know is Anne was a virgin and Clif ran through the paces like a Formula One pit crew member. I’m still not sure how things progressed so fast, especially since Anne was so clearly not into it. She says as much right after, consequently setting Clif’s revenge plan into motion.

That scene put the issue of consent front and center, which the movie later addresses directly. It’s one of those moments that will play very differently for different viewers. Queer audiences, for instance, may be split between the camp that feels the idea of a gay girl having consensual sex with a guy is impossible, and the camp that thinks teenagers simply do stupid things for stupid reasons. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of overlap too.

So where does Anne go from here? Accept that Sasha is a lost cause? Do something equally as hurtful? Well, I can tell you everything she does is fitting of an adolescent.

First Girl I Loved features some great performances from a talented young cast. Dylan Gelula and Brianna Hildebrand are very believable as two infatuated teens, and Dylan especially shines as our heroine. The film doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable, like some may find teenage masturbation, or the unpopular, like that divisive scene. So while it’s unlikely to become a queer classic, if it serves as a conversation starter it may very well have fulfilled its purpose.

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