Jon Kasdan's The First Time captures one of those moments in life when you only hope you have the presence of mind to absorb every detail so that you can savor it later.
It's that moment when you were in exactly the right place at the right time to meet that special someone with whom you make an instant, almost cellular connection. It doesn't have to be a sexual attraction so much as a meeting of the minds, one that creates a bond strong enough to last. It might not actually last -- but it's strong enough to feel as though it will.
In Kasdan's universe, the two who meet are Dave (Dylan O'Brien) and Aubrey (Britt Robertson). Same age, different high schools, they're both at a party in an unfamiliar neighborhood in hopes of seeing someone specific, without luck. Instead, they wind up talking to each other and find that it's, well, easy in a really pleasant way. So they wander off into the San Fernando Valley night, creating a relationship that seems to have possibilities.
Of course, Dave was at that party in hopes of casually running into Jane (Victoria Justice), a girl who barely knows that Dave is alive. And Aubrey has been dating a college guy named Ronny (James Frecheville). So having something happen between Dave and Aubrey seems, at least to them, impossible for any number of reasons.
But not to Kasdan. With a light touch and deft wit, he brings these two people back together in ways that seem delightfully coincidental, with the charm of suburban fairy tale. These two deserve each other but need to earn it so they both appreciate just what they've got.
Dave has witty sidekicks. Aubrey has a wise (but wise-cracking) set of parents, along with a lunk of a boyfriend, who doesn't deserve her. Kasdan's writing easily plays mix and match, so that "boy gets girl" is never in doubt as the solution to the plot.
Actors playing teenagers inevitably mistake vulnerability for weakness, but O'Brien finds a more compelling interpretation. Having feelings, it turns out, is a lot braver than hiding them, something O'Brien captures, giving Dave more depth than you'd expect.
Robertson makes a good pair with him: quick-witted without being snarky, she's smart without having to be a smart-ass. Craig Roberts and Lamarcus Tinker supply solid comic relief as Dave's pals, while Frecheville (Animal Kingdom) has just the right sense of how much this guy enjoys behaving like a jerk.
The First Time is a polished gem of a teen romantic comedy, with a maturity and emotional intelligence not usually associated with the genre. Don't let it get lost among the louder, shinier releases of the movie weekend.
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