Written and directed by Victor Neumark, First Blush is the story of a young married couple, Nena (Rachel Alig) and Drew (Ryan Caraway), who decide to open up their relationship after they meet a beautiful young actress named Olivia (Kate Beecroft). For a feature film debut, First Blush is passable and hints at Neumark’s talent for exploring complex interpersonal dynamics. However, as a depiction of polyamory, it misses the mark.
Though billed as a romantic comedy, First Blush is not exactly what I would describe as funny. The film seems to eschew humour in favour drama. Without laughs to keep the momentum going, the story drags, and the runtime feels much longer than it actually is.
There is a whole lot of angst on display here, most of it avoidable. I couldn’t help but wonder, as I watched Nena and Drew’s misguided sexual and romantic adventure unfold, whether Neumark has any personal experience with his subject matter. This is not something that I usually consider when I watch movies, but First Blush seems to be comprised of all of the worst possible things a couple could do in an open relationship. As though Neumark scrolled through a polyamory sub-reddit and complied the stupidest and most painful stories he could find.
It certainly didn’t help that the story is presented through a heteronormative, male-centric gaze. Drew’s character was the least appealing to me, mostly because the film presents him as a mild mannered, likable guy. Caraway gives a decent performance as Drew, but he simply doesn’t have the same kind of chemistry with Beecroft and Alig does. This makes some of the character interaction feel forced and makes it difficult to believe that Olivia is interested in both Drew and Nena. Yet the possibility of a relationship between Nena and Olivia that excludes Drew (either sexually or romantically) is never presented as an option. This felt unrealistic to me and was the first sign that, despite its subject matter, First Blush was approaching the idea of non-monogamy from a perspective of heteronormativity. To put it a bit more plainly: First Blush is a conservative take on open relationships that insists upon a relationship dynamic that prioritizes and centers male desire. That wouldn’t be so bad, except that the film does not deal with this directly. And, while both Olivia and Nena are asked to confront ugly truths about themselves over the course of the film, Drew is presented as little more than a nice, subservient husband who has been done wrong by his controlling wife.
Ultimately, I’m not sure exactly who First Blush is meant to be for – besides straight men who like the idea of having two gorgeous female partners and want to see that emotional fantasy (there is very little sex actually shown in the film) play out on screen. Nena and Drew’s actions simply do not make sense. This is a couple that doesn’t communicate with each other, or with their date, and their refusal to have open and honest conversations leads to a whole lot of unethical behavior from both of them. Much of that behavior is borderline abusive – and decidedly not funny. I believe that there are couples like this out there, but I cannot bring myself to root for them. As a result, watching First Blush was an uncomfortable and, frankly, upsetting experience.
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