Mini's First Time

I’ve written about this before, but many American independent films these days seem plagued by rather naked commercial ambition, kowtowing to expectation in an attempt to curry audience favor. It’s as if the ship has sailed on radical notions of character study and slowly revealed motivation — former hallmarks of independent cinema — and even though filmmakers might be able to cleverly explain, in backwards-plotted fashion, a rationale or raison d’être for their individual works, they seem largely to be aping convention in an effort solely to land their next gig. If you think about it, this trend is in some ways actually more craven than broadly pitched, mindless Hollywood fare, which at least usually has the good sense and decency not to try to present itself as thoughtful, and certainly not as art. All of which brings us to Mini’s First Time, an empty vehicle of flattened emotional affect from screenwriter and debut feature director Nick Guthe.

Born — as its breathless over-narration more than adequately informs us — to an embittered, gold-digging mother (Carrie-Anne Moss), teenaged Mini (Thirteen’s Nikki Reed) lives life in the Hollywood fast lane. Estranged from said alcoholic, philandering mother, Diane, and her equally emotionally isolated stepfather, executive publicist Martin (Alec Baldwin), Mini lives her life as a mission to collect as many behavioral cherry pops — as many original experiences — as possible. (Not to nitpick, but wouldn’t the more apt and interesting title then be Mini’s First Times, plural?) To that end, she takes a job at a high-end escort service, and who should one of Mini’s first clients be except… Martin.

Instead of running nauseously from the room, however, Mini rationalizes that it’s OK since they’re not really related, and thus coaxes an unaware Martin into a shadowy but satisfying sexual encounter. When he finds out what’s happened, Martin is momentarily thrown, but — his reasoning perhaps impaired by a loveless marriage — he pursues a continuation of their relationship, and soon finds himself amenable to Mini’s suggestion that they conspire to have Diane committed to a mental institution by eliciting further outrageous and zonked-out behavior through meting out a combination of drugs, alcohol and psychological intimidation. Mini eventually arouses the suspicion (and possibly more) of her hornball television producer neighbor (Jeff Goldblum), and this and other events lead to continuing inquiries from a dogged beat cop (Luke Wilson).

Like similarly sour-cheeked adolescent tales of manipulation and emotional disconnection Pretty Persuasion and The Chumscrubber, Mini’s First Time attempts to walk a tightrope between sly, dark and/or tongue-in-cheek comedy and somewhat shadowy menace, but comes across as smirky, contrived and unconvincing. Here the adult characters are at least a bit less buffoonish and a bit more rooted in the real world, if no less wholly irresponsible in their parental duties and adult oversight. But while the character of Mini somewhat recalls, in her lack of altruism and coldly intellectual honesty, Linda Fiorentino’s turn as Bridget Gregory in director John Dahl masterful slice of ’90s noir, The Last Seduction, there’s neither the shock nor the heft of that unapologetic opportunism here.

While dealing with his unlikable protagonist and having her do nasty and scabrous things, Guthe also wants to imply that Mini acts the way she does because she’s a wounded bird or somehow fighting for survival, even though the film’s ludicrous ending realistically completely undercuts this suggestion. From a purely practical and entertaining point-of-view, though, there’s no palpable warmth to Martin and Mini’s relationship past the first sexual bloom, so you know long in advance the two twists that are inevitably coming. What one is left with is a triple-smug picture that enjoys flaunting its “inappropriateness” and then trying to convince you that in doing so it’s revealing some significant anthropological or sociological truths. I’m sure someone will indulge these, Mini’s First’s lies, but it won’t be mainstream audiences, or even most desirously agreeable independent film fans. (First Independent, R, 91 mins.)


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