First Love, Last Rites is about the exquisite pain and confusion of first love. City boy Joey, played by Giovanni Ribisi, spends his summer in a meltingly hot town in the Louisiana bayou with his young girlfriend Sissel (Natasha Gregson Wagner). They spend their days and nights in their womblike one room apartment making love, listening to 45’s and avoiding Sissel’s obnoxious younger brother. Little by little, however, reality – in the form of Sissel’s screwed up parents and the young lovers’ own insecurities and lack of ability to communicate with each other – gnaws its way into their intimate world causing emotional chaos and disillusionment.
Ex Lemonhead bassist Jesse Peretz’s subtle, sensual filmmaking style perfectly evokes the outer and inner lives and emotions of his characters. The film is moody and languorously paced demonstrating the director’s clear passion for the medium and strong sense of visuals. It has a naturalistic style yet is exquisitely framed and shot with careful attention paid to details like lighting and colour. The sex scenes are both beautiful and utterly realistic. The screenplay, co-written by Peretz and David Ryan, is based on the short story by British writer Ian McEwan. Giovanni Rissi gives an affecting, visceral performance while Natasha Gregson Wagner is appropriately sultry and mysterious if a bit too consistent in her choices. Ultimately, First Love, Last Rites is a refreshingly honest and communicative film that presents both the ecstasy and horror of first love.