I remember my adolescence mostly through a lens of pain. It was a period of my life where I didn’t fit in, and I used books and movies to escape. Watching director Cecilia Aldarondo’s adolescent life laid bare on screen made all my own buried memories resurface. In the film she calls this entire process “an emotional exorcism”, a way for herself to understand why these painful memories continue to haunt her even though she’s no longer the same person anymore.
The movie begins with Cecilia attending her high school reunion. There’s a certain trepidation there, made all the more acute with the Jaws-like music that inundates the scene, as she’s forced to deal with a whole group of people who weren’t particularly nice to her. There are moments she chooses to leave in for the final cut, like a guy asking her how she got her lovely, curly hair to look like that and a person intruding on a conversation she’s having to say hello to the other person, while completely ignoring her. We get footage of her just sort of loitering around, kind of in the periphery of things, because time doesn’t completely change who you are.
Cecilia often reenacts these memories that she recalls, be it her first dance with the first boy she crushed on, or a bad kiss with a random guy she met at the mall. At times we’re laughing at some of these sequences, because Cecilia is naturally funny and commits wholeheartedly to the bit. Other times there’s a sense of discomfort, because it reminds us of our own experiences. When she talks about her many-years crush on Joel, I remember all too well my own intense infatuations, fairytale romances I would often build up in my head but never experience in any real capacity.
You Were My First Boyfriend fleshes out how difficult it is to be a teenage girl. Because to us, we’re never pretty enough, skinny enough, popular enough. Society and media tells us that these are things we should aspire to be, and we’re constantly reminded of how we never measure up. Cecilia recalls the painful parts of family get-togethers, where her sisters were complimented for their beauty, and she was told constantly that she would never get a boyfriend if she didn’t lose weight. She envied all these magical, youthful experiences she never got to be a part of, and carefully preserved the ones where she felt a sense of acceptance, even if it was temporary.
The film does feel like a homage to her friendship with childhood friend Caroline, someone whom Cecilia stopped being friends with because she was too busy chasing fame and popularity. Caroline never desired any of these things, and reveled in just being herself, and even though Cecilia didn’t have to perform in front of her, when you’re young authenticity isn’t prioritised the way acceptance is. The regret is apparent, in her narration and her desire to capture the essence of her friend on screen. Time is finite, and sometimes we don’t know what we’re missing until it’s gone.
As Cecilia waxes lyrical about all the male fictional characters she used to fawn over in film, like Newland Archer and George Emerson, it’s especially touching to see her own partner appear in her film and even participate in one of the reenactments. It’s sweet to witness all their little moments together – as she touches his face tenderly, as he listens intently to her while she describes how she confessed her feelings to Joel.
The most comforting thing about You Were My First Ever Boyfriend is the realisation that we can eventually grow into ourselves, and embrace the truth of who we are. Maybe that eventual metamorphosis makes all the torture we go through easier to reconcile. Maybe.
Review screener provided.
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Director Cecilia Aldarondo's You Were My First Boyfriend is a fascinating look into our youthful desires and insecurities, and the follies that haunt us.
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