A Sentimental Education: First Love on Film
“First love burns brightest”, claims the poster for Jane Campion’s Bright Star, but brightest is not synonymous with best. Yeah, it’s vivid, and brilliant, and it makes you feel all aglow, but that’s just on the good days. It can also burn you right up – and probably will – leaving a smouldering pile of ash in its wake. Such are the dangers of unprotected love.
Anyone who has ever been a teenager will remember that the most important – and inevitably, the most painful – lessons took place out of bounds, well away from the classroom.
And so it proves for Jenny (Carey Mulligan) in An Education, an “A” student who is possibly a bit too clever for her own good. She’s got Oxbridge in her sights, but along comes David (Peter Sarsgaard) at just the wrong time, an older bloke with charm, money, “savoir faire”, and suddenly she’s asking what the point of it all is. (“The civil service,” suggests her headmistress, a little desperately.) There’s a whole other life out there that Jenny is discovering for herself, and it’s ripe for the taking. Why should she wait?
Countless kids have asked themselves the same thing, and come to any number of different conclusions, but almost always with cataclysmic results (or so it seems at the time).
But we get through it, mostly, and the movies are there to help – first love is one of those subjects that will never go out of fashion, right along with alien invasion, vampires and Sherlock Holmes.
Naturally, Hollywood shows a pronounced bias towards the male experience (it’s not like there are equal numbers of female ticket buyers out there or anything…), although, predictably, these movies tend to be more about the first sexual experience than romantic love. No, guys, they’re not the same thing. But after a little head-scratching we’ve managed to come up with his-and-her lists of equal value, films that offer some degree of comfort, caution, or at the very least, schadenfreude.
So if you suspect you’re heading towards the purgatory of first love – or you know someone who might be – here are the crucial movies you might want to be adding to your queue before it’s too late…
Josh Peck is a frustrated teen who gets serious with his psychiatrist’s step-daughter (Olivia Thirby), though the real romance here is between the boy and his shrink.
Love lesson: “Never trust anyone who doesn’t smoke pot and doesn’t like Bob Dylan”.
Love lesson: “She’ll only break your heart, it’s a fact. And even though I warn you, even though I guarantee you that the girl will only hurt you terribly, you’ll still pursue her. Ain’t love grand?”
Anais watches as her big sister is seduced on vacation by a local stud, and learns a thing or two.
Love lesson: “I want my first time to be with someone I don’t love.”
The lovely Lisbon girls get grounded for all time – in this, the first film from Sofia Coppola.
Love lesson: “We knew the girls were really women in disguise, that they understood love, and even death, and that our job was merely to create the noise that seemed to fascinate them”
Two girlfriends figure out how much they have in common.
Love lesson: “Is it true you're a lesbian? If you are I understand, 'cause guys are so gross. I'm also going to be one, I think.”
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