Chelsea Peretti hits it out of the park on the first try as the multi-hyphenate directs the superb First Time Female Director.
The film was my most anticipated narrative going into Tribeca. When one comes from improv and sketch comedy, they gravitate towards the comedies in the festival program. A comedy having this sort of pedigree means it is arriving with high expectations. It lived up to them but I also expected it would. Make no mistake about it, the Brooklyn Nine-Nine star is on to bigger and better things. I know it’s a cliché but it’s very true–this is a home run out of the ballpark on the first pitch.
Making a comedy movie is hard. Making an excellent comedy on the first try is even harder. And yet, this is exactly what Chelsea Peretti has succeeded in doing with her first feature film. The Roku Channel will release the comedy at some point. As such, the world premiere at Tribeca may be among the few times that an audience gets to experience the film in a shared communal setting. The fact that it’s going to a streamer says something about how hard it is to release a comedy in this environment. It doesn’t make the film any less of a great comedic satire but I wish more people could have the same theatrical experience as I did. I really do.
A playwright, Sam Clifford (Chelsea Peretti), finds herself in a position to direct her own play at the Regis Theatre. Usually, Greggy Thompson (Tim Heidecker) would do the directing but he is now in hot water. Much like in Peretti in real life, Sam is now a first time female director. Sam’s play is a drama set in the rural south–the very opposite of write what you know. In any event, Peretti’s script gives Sam just about any obstacle you can imagine. You name it, it’s in the film–including a company that rebels against Sam. Once she starts spiraling out of control, it’s hard to rebound. Not when her therapist, Meg (Amy Poehler), is in need of her own therapist.
The satire here is on fire, including the commentary on what’s happening in our world today. What does it mean to be authentic? Can a non-Southerner write about the South? During a Q&A following one of the play’s performance, First Time Female Director offers commentary on whether Jews are white or not. There is also commentary on white privilege in general. What about value? Does it mean something if one thing gets a standing ovation and another thing does not? It feels like we hear more about an ovation’s length then the quality of the film itself.
Even though Peretti’s directorial debut is set at a theater, I see it as a stand-in for any setting in the industry. The same problems that Sam deals with at the theater are the same problems that first-time females must put up with elsewhere. In this world, any female creatives in a position of power have to deal with a lot of pressure simply for not being men. It is unfortunate but true.
From a financial standpoint, it’s probably less expensive to make a film about a playwright than a sitcom or feature film writer making the transition to directing and utilizing multiple soundstages on a studio lot. Indies often have to make due with what locations they can find. Regardless, it’s an A+ debut with everyone hitting the mark. Peretti is a multi-hyphenate but one would expect her next feature to be here sooner than later.
This is a film with a cast that is very talented at comedy. Unfortunately, a large ensemble means some people will not have enough screen time. However, they make the best of it in service to the story. Indie films often do not have enough time for production so one wonders how much room there was for improv. Anyway, there is no shortage of laughter in Peretti’s directorial debut. There are certainly some other treats but I will not spoil them.
First Time Female Director is a brilliant satire that is among the best first features in recent years, joining the likes of Get Out, Shiva Baby, Theater Camp, etc. Eighty percent of female filmmakers end up being one and done, which speaks to how hard it is to be a female filmmaker. Let’s hope Chelsea Peretti gets behind the camera again because she has a bigger and brighter future ahead of her.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Chelsea Peretti
CAST: Chelsea Peretti, Benito Skinner, Kate Berlant, Megan Stalter, Jak Knight, Xosha Roquemore, Blake Anderson, Andy Richter, Max Greenfield, Natasha Leggero, Tim Heidecker, Brad Hall, with Megan Mullally and Amy Poehler
First Time Female Director holds its world premiere during the 2023 Tribeca Festival in the Spotlight Narrative section. The Roku Channel will release at a later date. Grade: 5/5
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