Monday, April 23, 2012

Goodbye First Love

An impressionistic French reminiscence with an overly literal title, Mia Hansen-Love's "Goodbye First Love" does not merely indulge the moon-faced melodrama of adolescent romance but welters in it. The movie exudes sophistication, but its sensibility is actually quite regressive.

It's about Camille (Lola Créton) and Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky), teenage lovers in Paris. Her whole world revolves around him, but he feels wanderlust - he wants to go find himself in South America - and has a keener sense of where he is in life, that there will be much more for him than this relationship, however consuming it seems now. To us if not to him, Camille is exasperating to be around: mopey, dopey and smothering. I laughed when he reassured her, "You're the light of my life." Light? She's a walking raincloud, a real-life Joe Bfstplk.

It's a fundamental flaw of the movie that we meet the couple when their love is already in full flower. We have no emotional investment in them to begin with, and no rooting interest in their staying together. Quite the opposite, we're able to see just how immature and dependent their relationship is, and that the best thing for both of them would be to see other people.

Sully does in fact head off to Peru (or was it Chile?), and in the space of fifteen minutes or so eight years pass by. Camille is now 23 and studying architecture, sporting close-cropped hair and dating (and, as ever, defining herself in relation to, not to mention perpetually annoying) one of her professors. The 18-year-old Créton manages to be as unconvincing at 23 as at 15, pulling off a Gabrielle-Carteris-on-"90210" Daily Double.

When she spots Sullivan's mom on a bus, she jots down her digits and he's back on the scene before you can say Jack Robinson. Here's where the movie's regressive politics really come out. Camille hasn't done an ounce of growing up or self-definition in eight years; one sight of him, and she'll throw everything else away to have him back. There's no emotional arc to Camille, no growth. Even the young women in Nicholas Sparks' books show more spunk than this albatross.

For "Goodbye First Love" to achieve an emotional effect, the audience must, to some extent, want what the lovers have, or at least understand why they want it. Suffering through 110 minutes of this suffocating, self-sabotaging character, who snuffs out joy and brings nothing to the table but insatiable need, all we want is to escape.

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