First Time Female Director Review: Chelsea Perettis Chaotic Feature Film Debut Is As Hilarious As It Is Bleak Tribeca Festival

Written and directed by Chelsea Peretti, First Time Female Filmmaker lives in the self-deprecating world of meta storytelling. Debuting at the Tribeca Festival in Spotlight Narrative, Peretti put so much of herself into this narrative, it could work as a documentary. It’s also such a comically honest portrayal of what women must endure if they want to get ahead in any career, let alone the theater business. Having to constantly prove to yourself and others that you are capable is so exhausting, but can also be rewarding if you are set up for success. Many are often left to fend for themselves, and the film shows one way of how that can happen.  

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In addition to Peretti, First Time Female Filmmaker boast a hefty cast, including Chelsea Peretti, Amy Poehler, Andy Richter, Benito Skinner, Blake Anderson, Megan Stalter, Megan Mullally, Jak Knight, and Xosha Roquemore, Kate Berlant, and many more. 

Sam (Peretti) is taking over for the director at the Regis Theater in Glendale, Calif., thanks to Sheldon (Richter), who works at the theater. She’s a playwright, so she should be able to handle it, right? The old director was ousted because of being a sexual predator. Sam quickly discovers that being a director may be a lot more challenging than she originally thought. But her dream is to stage her dream production, a rural drama set in the South. Sam comes up against a bunch of issues that sets the production on a course of destruction–mainly because of the cast. 

The cast consists of Rudy (Skinner), Davina (Stalter), Marjory (Mullally), Simon (Knight), Kara (Berlant), and Corden (Anderson) who don’t like Sam because they are so used to another man directing them they don’t know how to adapt. Sam is struggling to gain their respect through different methods of direction that aren’t working. The group is rather harsh to her, but instead of sticking up for herself and demanding better, she just changes protocol that further damages her authority. When the cast gets fed up and quits, she has to figure out how to salvage the show and her reputation.

First Time Female Filmmaker broaches the obstacles that female directors in the entertainment industry face, displaying the systemic imbalances that are set up for them to fail. Peretti’s protagonist, Sam, is a woman initially presented as wide-eyed and vibrant. But as the narrative progresses, she is pushed further and further to the edges of the industry she loves. This is a harsh reality for many women across the entertainment spectrum, leading to a bitter-sweet revelation in the film’s conclusion. Within that same framework, the film hints that even as an unsuccessful white woman, Sam still has an advantage over her peers of color. This revelation of these blindspots presents the character with the hard-hitting truth: you aren’t the center of the universe, girl!

Peretti, with her impeccable comedic instincts, carries the film with her natural ability to generate laughter. Her comedic range is on full display here, with her line delivery and expressive faces providing consistent knee-slapping moments. She gathers a supporting ensemble of talents, each playing their characters with the dedication of seasoned professionals, helping to move the occasionally disjointed narrative forward.

Stylistically, First Time Female Filmmaker  sometimes feels like a long episode of the hit show Community. It works for the series, but for a film, that often works to its detriment. Its 97-minute runtime occasionally feels as if it’s stretched beyond that, probably because of the amount of ideas Peretti’s story tries to balance. To the film’s credit, it captures the manic nature of the theater world atmosphere, and has an undeniable level of self-awareness, which adds  another layer to the film’s chaotic charm. While the story could benefit from a tighter focus, the personal reflections and multiple streams of thought ultimately serve to create a portrait of a woman striving for success in a challenging industry.

Overall, First Time Female Filmmaker is a good debut from this first time female director. Although it may sometimes stumble under its ambitions, it provides a messy, challenging,  insightful, bleak and painfully funny examination of women in entertainment.. It serves as a significant addition to the comedy genre, and sets the stage for what is likely to be a promising directorial career for Peretti.

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