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‘First Time Female Director’ Review — ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ for Comics

Mar 8, 2024


The Big Picture

A strong ensemble cast elevates
First Time Female Director
to chaotic hilarity.
This overabundance of talent also results in a messy, occasionally unfocused satire with missed opportunities.
Editing issues and the crowded ensemble hold back the film’s potential for sharp commentary and deeper character exploration.

Avengers: Infinity War has been referred to as the most ambitious crossover in cinematic history, but First Time Female Director may give it a run for its money. Instead of uniting superheroes, however, it brings together some of the best comedians working today. Its main cast alone includes sitcom legends Chelsea Peretti (who also directed, wrote, and produced it), Amy Poehler, and Megan Mullally as well as hot rising stars who have found massive success on social media like Meg Stalter and Benito Skinner. And that’s not including the parade of cameos, each more surprising and delightful than the last.

The setup is relatively simple: Sam (Peretti), a playwright at a small Glendale theater, is hired to direct her play — a Southern melodrama called Rain’s Comin’ In — after the former director Greggy (Tim Heidecker) is fired for sexual misconduct. She agrees after being promised a hearty pay raise but is clearly nervous about the new endeavor. And considering how brutal the cast is toward her, that anxiety proves to be warranted.

‘First Time Female Director’ Features Many (Maybe Too Many?) Hilarious Performances

First Time Female Director’s biggest strength lies in its performances. Peretti has said that she wanted her actors to have room to play and follow their comedic instincts — a decision that pays off. Everyone is doing exactly what they do best and firing on all cylinders, from Stalter’s narcissistic influencer to Mullally’s seasoned theater diva to Kate Berlant’s uptight craft-dedicated thespian. There are no small performances either as every aforementioned cameo also gets a dedicated moment to shine. One of the funniest bits is the over-aggressive tech guys constantly yelling at Sam.

The downside to having an abundance of talent is that we never get a chance to dig too deeply into any of them. The film is filled to the brim with excellence, which results in it feeling overstuffed. Sometimes that works in its favor, with your funny bone being constantly hit from all directions. Other times, when it’s not quite as sharp, it’s a disadvantage, coming off a bit messy.

This rings true for the issues it covers, too. First Time Female Director satirizes everything under the sun, including gender and racial politics, cancel culture, Los Angeles, and theater. And, to its credit, the results range from “adequately well done” to “knocks it out of the park.” Still, one can’t help but wonder if they couldn’t have all been home runs with more focus and fewer balls in the air.

‘First Time Female Director’ Stumbles With Its Editing
Image via Roku

Part of the reason the film can feel chaotic in a not-so-fun way is its bizarre editing choices. The old-timey title cards ranging from “Rehearsals” to “Opening Night” are fun in theory, but there are so many of them that it ultimately makes the pacing choppy. Similarly, the slow-motion effects are overused and come off as amateurish — more middle-school history project than a feature film. The script and performances are funny enough even as the inclusion of these other elements often distracts from the humor instead of enhancing it.

The cluttered nature of the ensemble and odd pacing are what hold back some of the commentary as well. The relationship between Sam and the theater’s ticket booth worker and aspiring playwright Star (Xosha Roquemore) is one of its most interesting. Sam is the first female director the Glendale theater has seen — something that’s comedically noted as revolutionary time and time again since putting her in the position feels rather performative. (And she may not be all that much better than the man they got rid of in ways.) The matter is complicated further after Star begins to gain even more success than Sam, getting a standing ovation at her own play, which makes Sam jealous. This leads to a conversation about Sam’s privilege and the disparity between white women creatives and those of color. Sam, after all, gets her directing opportunity handed to her on a silver platter and often acts ungrateful; meanwhile, Star must fight tooth and nail for her shot and is supportive of Sam even when she’s getting afforded opportunities Star is just as deserving of. Their glass ceilings, as it’s pointed out, are at different heights.

It’s an important issue and a rich dynamic, but it feels a bit rushed and glossed over in its execution. With more buildup, this could have acted as a biting satire, but as-is, it feels like it was wedged into the script without the kind of foreshadowing required to make it work on the level it could. A large piece is there, but it needs slightly more massaging into the finished product and suffers because of how much the film is trying to do.

The editing even occasionally trips up the best aspects of the film parodying theater. The specificity is there for both Sam’s and Star’s plays. Sam’s is in the vein of Tennesse Williams, with a running gag about characters constantly mentioning factory fires, the ghost of an abusive father, and an abrupt pregnancy announcement and death scene. The jokes are hilarious and deliciously over-the-top, but the montage of the table read and show itself never flows as well as it could, detracting from some of the comedy. Star’s show fares better on this front, potentially due to it being a metaphor-ridden piece about technology and society’s obsession with it. Both feel timely and ripped from popular trends in the theater world — a world Peretti is clearly intimately acquainted with and obviously loves, making her an excellent person to satirize it.

Despite its sometimes rocky editing and crowded ensemble, First Time Female Director does what it sets out to do: make you laugh and laugh hard. It’s undeniably funny and bold in how it lets its stars go big and make risky choices. It could be sharper at moments, and it could go more deeply into its characters and the issues it’s poking fun at, but all in all, it’s one hell of a fun, wacky ride. Peretti has thrown a lot at the wall her first go-around, and I hope she gets a chance to see what sticks and hone in on it. This solid debut shows that she has some undeniably good instincts and an approach that gets the best work from her performers. I’d be very excited to see what kind of work she creates as a second-time female director.

First Time Female Director REVIEWWhile more than a little flawed, First Time Female Director is overflowing with comedy talent that make it hilarious to watch. ProsChelsea Peretti is clearly deeply attuned to the world of theater she is poking fun at, resulting in some of the film’s best moments.The cast are all given their moment to shine, even when the film itself can feel a little overstuffed.The film succeeds at making you laugh and laugh hard, smoothing over some of the parts where it doesn’t quite flow as well. ConsSome of the film’s editing choices hold it back from having the comedic bite that it is clearly reaching for.The deeper ideas that the film wants to explore often feel wedged in rather than fully fleshed out.

First Time Female Director is now available to stream on Roku in the U.S.

WATCH ON ROKU

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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