First Date is a cool, sharp, perfectly formed film.
The action begins in a public library (the film maker, Gary Huggins, worked in one in Kansas City for 10 years, mining the experience extensively for this film). A man sits at a computer and we can see what he is typing on the screen- he is chatting to someone online. The conversation gets flirty, and then dirty, and we understand that he is setting up a date with a teenager (at this point most will assume a girl, an assumption that proves wrong)- we also understand he has lied about where he is and what he is doing.
Desperate to make the date he has set up, he pleads with, then explodes at his parole officer? welfare clerk? social worker? to lend him a car. He is refused, and we see him next, slightly anxious, unwinding a bit, trailing a woman and her child in a supermarket- is this the date he has set up? Is he stalking her, or is he shy? He steals her car, so he can drive to meet his teenaged paramour. From this point on, you realise that whatever your assumptions are about this character, and this film, they are destined to be confounded.
Each subsequent scene reveals another nugget of character detail- you aren’t bludgeoned over the head with this guy, he comes in stages. And it’s as dark as they come, but the filmmaker won’t let you orient yourself in the moral landscape. It’s left to the protagonist to reveal himself, bit by unreliable bit- what he has done/what he is doing- and your perspective as the audience must keep adapting.
Some films set out to “deal” with pre-determined issues. My favourite films let the sheer force of a human story- all the contradictions, confrontations, inconsistencies- take centre stage. The issues are always there- they are there whether you like it or not. I like that huge, age old questions hang over this film, but never overwhelm it. Questions like: what is evil? What makes people cross the line? Where, in fact, is the line?
The biggest and best question that the film poses, with it’s brilliant, concise script and gripping central performance, is: Who is this man? A question that is unanswerable, and unanswered. It’s all over in 20 minutes, but it will still kick you in the guts, and have your mind boggling for quite a while afterwards.
First Date screened at the 2006 Sundance, SXSW, Clermond-Ferrand, Outfest and Frameline Film Festivals.
A fascinating interview with the film maker and lead actor, Santiago Vasquez, can be found at Lawrence.com:
Gary Huggins latest short film, “Happy 95 Birthday Grandpa” just won special jury shorts prize at the 2009 SXSW film festival.
Clip of First Date can be viewed on myspace: http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=1255149