REVIEW: First Man
First Man is better than the average film with amazing editing, beautiful visuals, and kick you in the teeth levels of acting prowess from Ryan “I-can-do-no-wrong” Gosling and Clair “what-will-The-Crown-be-without-you” Foy.
It’s also pretty freakin’ boring.
Writer Josh Singer (Spotlight) and director Damien Chazelle (La La Land) choose to spend the bulk of the film’s runtime getting to know the man behind the mission rather than the mission behind the man. This is not a movie about space travel. This is a movie about Neil Armstrong. We take a sober look at the tragic events that preceded his history making “small step”. No holes are barred as the story dives right into Armstrong’s marital problems and the general nature of his stoic personality.
I would compare the pacing to that of a snail, but despite it being a totally rote analogy, it’d also be inaccurate because a snail SPEEDS by this 2 hour plus long silent stare festival.
The last movie I saw that had this much “man, I am sooooo sad right now” eye contact was Twilight: New Moon. It’s actually done well here, due to some earnest emotion/complex characters, but it’s just not engaging to have your protagonist sulk in the backyard every time the main conflict is brought up.
It just isn’t.
Tonally the movie is a single dull note. A long sad bellow played by the weakest didgeridoo soloist of all time. Pain, after pain, after pain, after pain, it forces the plot into a terribly predictable cycle and never capitalizes on what was surely some multidimensional motivations.
I mean, YOU’RE GOING TO THE MOON! There’s no joy there? No anger? Not a touch of wonder? Only the death of your kid/friends, huh? I find it all incredibly hard to believe no matter how much the men of the 60s ate their emotions. (Which is one thing First Man does a great job of portraying, but I digress.)
I did appreciate the sense of realism Chazelle brought to the space exploration genre. The shuttles we built were less technologically advanced than a smartphone, and you feel that. The humans that built them were just as flawed and self-seeking and emotionally tortured as we are, and you feel that. The public zeitgeist was just as conflicted and publicity driven and inconsiderate, and you feel that.
But woof man, I think you could have gotten the same points across with a little flair. A little La La Land-y Whiplash-ian goodness for the people in the back. Instead I was left to deal with this muted family drama that’s kinda about space but not really…
and I left bored.
To use another rote analogy, let’s pretend Damien Chazelle is a baseball player and every film he makes is an at bat. The man is still one of the best in the game right now. He hits it out the park ½ the time, and when he doesn’t, he still gets on base and plays to the fans. But I was really hoping for a grand slam on this one, and all he put out was a single.
P.S. I also thought how Singer bookmarked each act with a funeral to emphasize grander theming was FREAKIN’ DOPE..but yeah. Gah, I want to like this movie so bad…okay bye.