SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! Do you remember your adolescent years? For the majority of us, the teenage years are a time you want to forget. This is particularly true for filmmaker Cecilia Aldarondo’s You Were My First Boyfriend, who, with co-director Sarah Enid Hagey, got HBO Documentary Films to fund a very special form of cinematic therapy as she confronts her past.
You Were My First Boyfriend begins in the present, with Aldarondo appearing to have a successful career as a documentarian. But deep within Aldarondo’s soul, moments from her high school still haunt her. After stumbling across her diary from long ago, she remembers her first crush, Joel, and a humiliating event that happened at school prom (think Carrie without the terror and death).
As a way to exorcise her demons, Aldarondo uses her film school training to recreate that moment in time as a way to relive and release it from her life. She hires a cast of teenagers to play her friends and builds sets as best she can to bring prom night back to life. That’s well and good, but then Aldarondo walks down a very cringey path, reaching out to Joel and reading him her diary entries. Then the filmmaker gets him to recreate a scene from My So-Called Life where she plays Angela, and her partner Gabe is Jordan Catalano. Yes, it’s all cringe, yet a wonder to behold.
Now that Aldarondo is on a roll, she decides to address other aspects of her teen years and recreate those moments. This includes the friendship with kindred spirit Caroline and the inevitable distance created when the friend sought cooler friends. There’s also a time when Aldarondo stood back on a camping trip as the mean girls pulled a prank on another high school outcast. Lastly, there’s the competition and inadequacy she felt with her “more attractive” sister prompting them to recreate Tori Amos’ music video for Crucify.
“…a very special form of cinematic therapy as she confronts her past.”
I’m not exactly the demographic for You Were My First Boyfriend. Never in my life was I ever a teen girl from the East coast, but I was definitely an awkward oddball teen trying to make friends and figure life out. Being graceless during our teens is a universal feeling that no one escapes, whether it’s pining for a crush, being ridiculed, set up for an awful prank, or refusing to stand up for a bullied classmate. All this provides plenty of common ground for anyone and everyone to connect with Aldarondo’s story.
In the end, I found myself fascinated and transfixed by what the director accomplishes through the cinematic medium. One of the teen actors calls Aldarondo’s production elaborate therapy, which is exactly what it is. As Aldarondo recreates all these moments in her life, she becomes reflective about her memories and feelings. Her sister, friends, and the actual people from that time then act as a sounding board giving crucial insight and perspective from their point of view.
The cinematic recreations stand out in You Were My First Boyfriend the most. Aldarondo plays herself in every scene, and everyone recognizes the ridiculousness of watching a middle-aged woman playing herself as a teen while standing next to actual teens playing her friends. This is a running theme that never gets tired or feels repetitive. Strangely enough, this would be a perfect film for teens to watch and reflect upon.
I had fun with You Were My First Boyfriend, but it’s important to approach it with the right perspective. Yes, serious topics are covered, from feeling “less than” to bullying to the harsh subject of suicide. Still, it’s silly and insightful, and that’s the way it’s meant to be. So lighten up and learn something.
You Were My First Boyfriend premiered at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival.
"…a perfect film for teens to watch and reflect upon."