There's a good heart and an awful lot of humor inside writer/director Gina O'Brien's directorial debut First One In, a familiar yet engagingly off-kilter sports comedy starring Kat Foster as Madi Cooke, a real estate agent turned reality TV star whose unceremonious tossing off of her show after accidentally killing an extremely rare animal leads to unemployment, worldwide shaming, and a desperate need to recreate her own reality.
That recreation comes when she finds herself working as an agent by high-powered agent Bobbi Mason (Georgia King), who claims tennis greatness at a nearby tennis club her agency sponsors but who needs another player after her own partner's pregnancy eliminates her from an upcoming tournament. Determined to hold her own in the tournament, Madi starts practicing at the nearby Acme Indoor Tennis Club where she finds herself gaining new friendships with the likes of CeeCee (Emily Coligado), Jane (Catherine Curtin), and others and, maybe most surprisingly, re-establishing an old friendship with Ollie (Alana O'Brien) with whom she once shared tennis stardom in school.
You know where this is going, don't you?
Madi tires of Bobbi's viciousness, far too reminiscent of her reality television experience, and she abruptly aligns herself with her misfit friends for a chance at at redemption and to put Bobbi in her place.
There's no denying that First One In is wildly uneven, starting off rather slowly but picking up steam and never losing the audience largely owing to Foster's engaging and humorous turn as Madi. You root for her early on and you never stop rooting for her.
If I had to compare First One In to anything, I'd likely consider it in the Happy Madison arena. While Happy Madison films aren't always top o' the line films, they get by on their goofy charm and really good hearts.
Indeed, First One In is so gosh darn endearing you can't help but feel at least a little bit better after watching it than you did before.
In addition to Foster's terrific work here, First One In is gifted with a fine ensemble effort including Georgia King's larger than life baddie Bobbie, whose smirk you can't help but want to wipe off her face as she sort of portrays what would have happened if the Mean Girls grew up. Josh Segarra is a hoot as Fernando, the always dependable Catherine Curtin shines as Jane, Emy Coligado adds tremendous humor as CeeCee, Alana O'Brien helps infuse the film with heart as Ollie, and writer/comic Michael Ian Black has a fun but far too brief appearance as Philip.
If anything, the ensemble is perhaps a bit too large to really give each and everyone their moment to shine but even the role players here fit quite nicely.
Production credits are solid throughout including Matthew Santo's lensing and Alan Zahn's original score. With her directorial debut, Gina O'Brien shows tremendous promise in balancing the film's heart and humor and one can't help but look forward to O'Brien's future efforts. Distributed by Rosetta Films, First One In is currently available on Digital and VOD including free for Amazon Prime members. While it's unlikely the film's quirky, awkward humor will click with everyone, First One In takes the match with characters you enjoy, a rich humanity, and enough humor to leave you smiling.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic