There’s something universal about being in love for the first time. Everyone experiences it, but it is also something very personal. The new film, Goodbye First Love, from writer/director Mia Hansen-Love strives to recreate these complicated emotions usually reserved for youth. The way memory can recall random minutia like clothing and room details or the overwhelming intensity of an exact moment are all conveyed here. Some scenes are so specific that they must have been drawn from private moments of the filmmaker’s own life. And even though the film is focused on the truth and cuts to the heart of it, at times it feels a little too simple. As if these truths, while indeed recognized and important, are perhaps too obvious to sustain dramatic power for two full hours.
The story begins with naked and naïve Camille (Lola Creton) happily in love, playfully flirting with Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky). The scene ends before they actually make love and this becomes a telling motif, as every instance of impending intercourse is cut short, implied but never witnessed. It is obvious Sullivan (a more serious and foreign Patrick Fugit look-a-like) cares for Camille but isn’t nearly as infatuated. He’s more independent and has plans to travel to South American. Meanwhile Camille makes pronouncements like, “Love is all I care about.” You can see where this is headed.
What isn’t so predictable and is my favorite element of Love, is how it deals with the passage of time. Sure, when we first meet Camille, she is nothing but a silly little girl in “love.” It’s something everyone will always tell you is juvenile; the way people will always let you know smoking is bad for you. No shit. But as she gets older, we see the transition from one mindset to another, through depression and on to becoming all the wiser. She moves on, but as is the film’s central message, never fully gets over that first love.
It’s here that the film slowly limps to the finish line. There are a couple of architectural and river metaphors that are none too subtle. And though it’s comforting to see how flawed Camille is while becoming a little more mature, the movie has no spark presenting it. The performances are solid, especially from Lola Creton. She navigates the tricky transformation of Camille expertly. The atmosphere is lovely, like a memory of a lost summer day. And like I said before, there are some instances where the film really nails down something we’ve all been through, but there is a dearth of drama. The film has precious few surprises. This is quite purposeful because the film is more interested in feelings and how they’re dealt with and not big arguments or speeches, but it needs to be a little more than what amounts to a visualized diary passage.