Written and directed by Nick Guthe
With Alec Baldwin, Nikki Reed, Luke Wilson, Carrie-Anne Moss, Svetlana Metkina, Sprague Grayden and Jeff Goldblum
Rated R; 91 minutes
An unholy stew comprised of equal parts of “The O.C.,” Lolita, Double Indemnity and Mommie Dearest, Mini’s First Time is 1) a dark, nasty comedy of very bad manners; 2) an indignant excoriation of today’s pampered, promiscuous and amoral youth; or 3) a slick, trashy celebration of all that money can buy in the guise of a cautionary tale. I can’t quite decide, and it could well be a combination of all three. Your reaction is likely to depend more on the point of view you bring into the theater, and the mood of the audience you see it with, than anything else about it.
I’m leaning toward Mini’s being a comedy, albeit quite a black one. This stylish-looking first feature from writer/director Nick Guthe certainly has some funny moments, mainly stemming from the cool, collected tone of the narration by the title character, Mini (Nikki Reed), a “latchkey kid” sporting a solid-gold key. No matter how outrageous the behavior she’s describing — prostitution, criminal mischief, homicide, double-crossing her stepdad/lover — she manages to sound at least a teensy bit bored.
This Southern California child of privilege is supposed to be 16 but looks at least 22, sporting gallons of bright-red lip gloss and the shortest of short skirts to show off her man-trapping legs. She often looks older than her mother, Diane, (The Matrix’s Carrie-Anne Moss), but of course narcissistic SoCal moms do everything they can to look younger. Moss reveals a heretofore unseen gift for comedy as Mini’s pill-popping, adulterous, acid-tongued boozehound of a parent (Mini’s first chore of the day is to bring Mean Mommy her morning margarita).
Perhaps it’s because Mini seems older than her years, or perhaps it’s because the chronological adults in this film are all so immature, but within the logic of this movie it’s understandable when Mini’s hunky stepdad Martin (Alec Baldwin) moves from being Diane’s oft-cuckolded husband to being Mini’s lover. Baldwin really commits to the role, even as his character’s behavior becomes increasingly unsavory, which helps hold the entire film together. He seems to have listened well to advice often attributed to Laurence Olivier: “If you’re going to be in trash, be the best trash in it.” (Olivier sparkled in a lot of garbage himself, especially in his later years.)
Once the Mini-Martin affair begins, viewers can almost guess the rest of the movie, although Guthe has a good time plumbing the apparently bottomless depths of Mini’s amorality. Stepdad and stepdaughter connive to drive Mean Mommy crazy (crazy enough to be committed, not just regular old rich-bitch crazy), because Martin foolishly failed to get a prenup when he married her — even though he is supposed to be a hotshot lawyer.
Their calculated campaign of crazy-making works a little too well — it’s all fun and games until someone pokes an eye out, or in this case swallows a bottleful of sleeping pills. Mini and Martin then have to decide whether to finish the job Mean Mommy started on herself. Martin pretends to have some qualms about moving from harassment to murder, but he’s no match for the certainty and sex appeal of Mini.
Unfortunately for Martin, he has failed to learn the lesson taught by dozens of films noir, from Out of the Past to The Last Seduction. That lesson is: in an adulterous/murderous affair, the woman is ALWAYS smarter — and deadlier (there’s a reason the phrase is “femme fatale,” not “homme fatale.”) Even if she herself loses out in the end, her partner in lust and crime gets it worse. And Mini is anything but a loser. Suffice it to say that the old Hollywood Production Code, which demanded that the guilty be punished, is emphatically not in force for Mini’s First Time.
For a first-time director, Guthe shows a strong visual sense. Daniel Stoloff’s cinematography captures the dark, deep blues of Mini’s ugly but oh-so-chic house and its lit-up pool, and creates a nice contrast with the hard sunlight of SoCal. The supporting cast, especially Luke Wilson as a polite but dogged detective (a kind of unrumpled Columbo), and Jeff Goldblum doing his best wacky-neighbor shtick, also help keep things moving.
So if the film is funny and relatively well-made, why did I leave the screening room feeling like I wanted a hot shower? Partly it’s that I have a miniscule remnant of belief in the innocence of youth, a remnant that has remained despite scores of tabloid stories about murderous kids. Another is that Mini’s behavior seems at heart unmotivated. Yes, her mom is a horror (she gives venom-spewing narcissists a bad name), but Mini’s emptiness seems to be a spiritual condition rather than a result of years of verbal abuse and neglect. You can make a funny movie out of someone with no limits to their selfishness and depravity, and Guthe has done that. It’s a lot harder to make that same movie satisfying all the way through, because monsters are more interesting when they share some traits with human beings