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The First Time

This competently crafted teen romance proves perilously short on substance, insight and novelty.

With: Britt Robertson, Dylan O'Brien, Victoria Justice, Craig Roberts, James Frecheville, Lamarcus Tinker, Joshua Malina, Christine Taylor, Maggie Jones, Halston Sage.

Boy meets girl, and after getting to know each other a smidge, they experience “The First Time” together in Jonathan Kasdan’s second feature. Not much more complicated than that nutshell outline, this teen romance proves perilously short on substance, insight and novelty, unless you count its characters being afflicted with a case of “Juno” mouth. Competently crafted pic is too earnest to qualify as a teen sex comedy and too glossily handled to pass as a naturalistic slice of life. Viewers in the leads’ age group may find enough to identify with to make this a viable item for smallscreen vendors.

Dave (Dylan O’Brien) and Aubrey (Britt Robertson) cross paths outside a house party where neither of them knows anyone. During their long, overwritten initial encounter, we find out that he’s a senior heading east soon for college, while she’s a junior at a different high school. She has an older “sorta” boyfriend, Ronny (James Frecheville), while he’s nursing a crush on a girl (Victoria Justice) who sees him just as a friend. Dave walks Aubrey home, then both accidentally fall asleep during a chaste cuddle on her bedroom floor, prompting a wacky emergency rooftop escape the next morning.

Practically everything here has been done before, to better ends than the very mildly cute effect the writer-helmer manages. Over the weekend’s remaining course, Dave wonders if Aubrey likes him and vice versa, tiny complications arise, and finally they decide to “do it,” at which point further complications occur, then are resolved. It’s hard to care much that these two have found each other, since nothing about their story or personalities is at all unusual or interesting.

Kasdan obviously intended otherwise; he studiously avoids the raunchy broad humor usually associated with such tales. But if he’s aiming for the pic to have a fresh, unvarnished real-teens-now feel, his modestly scaled but slick presentation and self-consciously clever verbiage are counterproductive, particularly since the latter (mainly Aubrey’s dialogue) is more strenuous than sharp. It also doesn’t work because the far-from-average protags are genetic lottery winners, living in the kind of upscale L.A. hood where every house has a pool, and every pool has a waterfall or two. Pic doesn’t offer any perspective on that milieu, or even try to.

Supporting figures offer the expected “quirky comic relief, sans inspiration. Mostly TV-drafted performers acquit themselves adequately, but don’t find the spark to transcend the simultaneously overpolished and underdeveloped script. Result isn’t exactly a failure, just a kinda-humorous, kinda-serious movie that never seems to justify the effort spent making it.

Packaging is pro, with the usual genre trappings of wall-to-wall indie-rock tunes.

The First Time

Production: A Jerimaca Film production. Produced by Martin Shafer, Liz Glotzer. Executive producers, Liah Kim, Carol Fuchs. Directed, written by Jonathan Kasdan.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Rhet Bear; editor, Hugh Ross; music, Alec Puro; music supervisors, Manish Raval, Tom Wolfe, Jonathan Leavy; production designer, Keith Cunningham; set decorator, Lisa Sessions; costume designer, Michele Posch; sound, Douglas Axtel; assistant director, Mark Trapenberg; casting, Amy McIntyre Britt, Anya Colloff. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 21, 2012. Running time: 100 MIN.

Cast: With: Britt Robertson, Dylan O'Brien, Victoria Justice, Craig Roberts, James Frecheville, Lamarcus Tinker, Joshua Malina, Christine Taylor, Maggie Jones, Halston Sage.

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