This totally unique and sometimes cringe-worthy documentary feels overly self-involved at first, but it eventually gets around to some powerful messages.
You Were My First Boyfriend co-director, subject, and star Cecilia Aldarondo is an affable screen presence. She makes herself fully vulnerable as she confronts her own demons on screen, even if at times those demons can feel a little aggrandized in her memories.
You can't help but wonder, for example, if giving quite so much weight to the mean girls of high school, dedicating them decades of reflection and resentment, might also be giving them way more power than they deserve.
But just when you think the film is going to wallow in self-analysis or only invite commiseration without further contemplation, Aldarondo throws a curveball that rationalizes why making peace with the past is so important -- to her and to others.
One striking scene of juvenile cruelty, reenacted by actors and witnessed tearily by the now-adult victim, conveys the emotional trauma childhood experiences can potentially inflict. A former friend's death reminds us that our time is finite.
The entire conceit of the film is fascinating, and its methods are more than a little uncomfortable. You're not sure what you're watching for a good chunk of the 97 minutes. Aldarondo refers to her quest as an "emotional exorcism." A teen actor calls it a "pretty elaborate version of psychotherapy."
Aldarondo stars in reenactments of her own high school memories, scenes which include her dancing and making out with teen boys. (These would surely raise more eyebrows if the genders were reversed.) She sits down with her first crush, now a bald middle-aged man who barely remembers her, and reads him a poem she wrote him as a teen.
She continually questions why she's even making this film in behind-the-scenes cuts that add yet another layer to themes of memory, reflection, and personal growth. Though the movie doesn't directly address larger questions of, for example, a generational comparison of self-awareness among teens or the construction of high school identities pre-social media, it certainly points toward them.
There's a lot of food for thought here, and this documentary's messages will likely resonate with many viewers.
Read the full review on Common Sense Media.
Images courtesy of Max.