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'My First Mister'

'My First Mister' heart-tugging but kinda creepy

Friday, October 19, 2001

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

At the beginning of "My First Mister," opening today at the Manor Theater, 17-year-old Jennifer (Leelee Sobieski) is the sort of girl who makes you glad you don't have children. Or, at the very least, a daughter like her.

'My First Mister'

RATING: R for language and some sexual material

STARRING: Albert Brooks, Leelee Sobieski

DIRECTOR: Christine Lahti

WEB SITE: www.paramount



She dresses like a goth/punk, has multiple facial piercings, a world-weary tone, a hobby of writing eulogies and undisguised disdain for her mother, out-to-lunch stepfather and aging hippie father. To say she's an outsider is an understatement.

But so, in a very different way, is Randall (Albert Brooks), a reserved 49-year-old who runs a men's clothing store in an upscale Los Angeles mall. When Jennifer asks Randall for a job, he laughs at the prospect. She insults him and he tells her to go home, "take the silverware out of your face," return in a week and they'll talk.

In an enormous leap of faith, Randall hires her for the stockroom. When she ventures onto the selling floor, she scares the customers -- although she does manage to persuade a man to buy a suit and convince Randall she's serious about moving out of the unseen back room.

In a tentative and (most improbable) way, the two become friends. While she's smitten with the idea that Randall might be something more, he seems to understand that he's nearly three times her age and there are lines decent men -- even lonely bachelors -- should not cross.

He helps her look for an apartment, patiently explaining why a first-floor rental is not a good idea. She, by refusing to give up on him, grants him an even greater gift than mere friendship.

In the end, as is typical in such movies, everyone is changed by the bond the characters develop. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but the premise seems fairly bogus and the developments more dubious (and heart-tugging) as the story unfolds.

"My First Mister" is the first screenplay by Jill Franklyn, who earned an Emmy nomination for co-writing the hilarious "Yada-Yada" episode of "Seinfeld." Directing was Christine Lahti, who considers this a movie about "the end of anonymity. ... Somewhere out there, sometimes where and when least expected, is a person for everyone who will understand and accept them and make them whole."

Sure, that's fine but pairing a 17-year-old girl and a 49-year-old man has innocent but creepy undertones. Then, despite a nicely restrained performance by a mustachioed Brooks and a wild-child turn by black-haired Sobieski, it all turns treacly.

Supporting characters are played by the likes of Carol Kane, Michael McKean, John Goodman and the always terrific Mary Kay Place. They're merely human props for the emotional drama that has characters sometimes moving -- and changing -- at warp speed.

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