My First Kiss and the People Involved Review
My First Kiss and the People Involved (2016) Film Review from the 22nd Annual Los Angeles Film Festival, a movie directed by Luigi Campi, starring India Menuez, Robert Beitzel, Liza Thorn, Josh Caras, and Michael Donaldson.
Hollywood has churned out so many thrillers over the years for viewers that one couldn’t be blamed if they thought the name of the genre was meant to be ironic. We have seen countless variations on the same basic stories and the same predictable twists, leading to the unenviable situation of viewers deducing what is going to happen as early as a third of the way through such films. So when a thriller actually manages to thrill audiences, it’s now something of an event, with Luigi Campi’s My First Kiss and the People Involved accomplishing such a feat with surprising ease and uncanny craftsmanship.
As played out as the thriller genre might be at this point, there exists one other type of movie that might be even more rote: ones that focus on people with mental and physical disabilities. Although these kinds of film may aim to spread awareness or, if they’re ambitious enough, illustrate the adversities faced by individuals with such conditions, they often descend into saccharine tear-jerking that does nothing more than make viewers proud of themselves for momentarily empathizing with a disabled person. My First Kiss, in contrast, steers clear of such common pitfalls. Instead, it endeavors to explore new, uncharted territory and returns with a tense tale to tell.
Set almost entirely at a remote group home, the film focuses on Sam (Menuez), a young woman who either has difficulty speaking or is disinclined against it. In fact, she does not speak until almost twenty minutes into the film to weigh in on what her bickering housemates should do for her birthday, startling them to such an extent that they immediately agree to her request. Much of the information we gather about the story and characters is realized through visuals and audio rather than traditional dialogue, with conversations fading faintly in as Sam makes her way around the house, giving us short looks into who is who and what is going on before fading out as she goes elsewhere. The effect is very jarring, and likely to confuse viewers at first, but as the movie goes on, it begins to make perfect sense. This must be how Sam perceives the world around her, a world of largely inconsequential chats and conversations but highly consequential sounds and images. It’s distressing, but that’s because it’s supposed to be: what is an hour and a half of discomfort for viewers is a day in the life of Sam, a difference that the film chooses to embrace rather than minimize.
What does distress Sam, however, is what she suspects has befallen her only friend Lydia (Thorn). After catching a glimpse of what appears to be Larry (Beitzel), the house’s overseer, killing her, Sam starts to find clue after clue – a heel in the trash here, blood in the ground there – indicating that that is precisely what happened. But even with this seemingly incontrovertible evidence, Sam finds herself powerless to expose Larry: socially isolated from her peers as it is, she is unable to fully communicate her suspicions to them, with her most dramatic attempt to do so defused when Larry convinces the others, who are all too willing to believe him, that her evidence is nothing more than cranberry sauce and tomato juice they threw out earlier. Sam’s desperation grows and grows until she finally confronts Larry about the matter head on, resulting in one of the freshest film twists in recent memory. If you want to find out what happened to Lydia, or just want to see an original film that’s realized in an original way, watch My First Kiss and the People Involved.
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