First Blush


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

First Blush
"Neumark has tried to cram the three-way dynamic of the central relationship into the structure of a conventional indie romance, which doesn't work."

Nena (Rachel Alig) and Drew (Ryan Caraway) have been married for several years but Nena still has uncertainties about it. She is, in fact, uncertain about most things in life, continually second guessing herself and wondering if she's feeling what she's supposed to be feeling. When, one night, she shares an unexpected kiss with Olivia (Kate Beecroft), a newcomer in their social circles, she's concerned that Drew's nonchalant response might mean he's not feeling what he's supposed to be feeling either.

When the three subsequently embark on a one night stand, and then on a relationship, Nena's world suddenly becomes full of possibility. She's finally breaking out of the box she has previously hidden in, finally starting to do things because she wants to and not just because she thinks she ought to. A succession of clichéd problems follow: friends disapprove, Nena is upset when Drew does things with Olivia that he won't do with her, and Olivia begins to feel trapped, at risk of losing her independence whilst remaining an outsider. When things start to go seriously wrong, however, the reasons lie deeper. Nena will have to examine her own behaviour and finally decide where her priorities lie.

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It has been pleasing, in recent years, to see cinema beginning to address polyamory as more than a subject of cautionary tales or an excuse for letching over threesomes. Films like Permission and Good Kisser have found intelligent ways to employ it as a dramatic theme. In many ways, however, it suffers from the same problem as homosexuality did when it first began to be treated respectful as a subject in mainstream cinema, and First Blush is a case in point. It's so determined to do justice to its subject that it tries to pack in all the associated issues its writer/director (Victor Neumark) can think of. Every bit of character-building seems to have been done in service of this, so the three leads never come alive the way they should. As a result, most of the storyline is dull and it's difficult to care about the conclusion.

There's also a structural problem here. Neumark has tried to cram the three-way dynamic of the central relationship into the structure of a conventional indie romance, which doesn't work. Situations which obviously require one to one conversations don't make sense when all three are together, no matter how deeply we believe in their feelings for one another. This is, simply, a more challenging prospect for a writer. It feels clumsy and rushed, without the emotional pay-off it strives for.

Focusing on a relationship involving conventionally attractive bisexual women (Olivia is even supposed to have modelled in Paris) also sets the film up for a fall; it's simply not strong enough dramatically to escape the clichés. There are occasional sparks of light. Drew's exploration of his desire to be submissive in relationships is well handled. It helps that Caraway is the strongest of the actors, though underused. There's also a subplot around Olivia's failure to pay her way which has potential but fizzles out halfway through.

The acting is patchy throughout, contributing to the sense that this film has been put together without sufficient thought. Doubtless there were good intentions behind it, and it may have some appeal to poly people who are still relieved to see any kind of positive reflection on their lives onscreen, but it's not a film that viewers will fall in love with.

Reviewed on: 03 Feb 2021
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First Blush packshot
When a young couple form a relationship with another woman, they are prompted to acknowledge the problems between the two of them.

Director: Victor Neumark

Writer: Victor Neumark

Starring: Rachel Alig, Ryan Caraway, Kate Beecroft, Jordee Kopanski, Christopher Moaney-Lawson

Year: 2019

Runtime: 107 minutes

Country: US


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