Hannah is 16 years old, smarter and spunkier than most of her classmates and her two pretty sisters, and plays a mean upright bass. But in her conventional suburb in mid-1960s France, none of that counts. She’s not interested in dating, it seems, and the famous school jazz band that she desperately wants to join is traditionally all-male and refuses to budge. Hannah’s adolescence is turning out to be no pique-nique--especially when pranks aimed at her turn from gentle hazing to being outright anti-Semitic.
Anchored by a witty and wise central performance by Marilou Berry (recently earning raves for Look at Me), along with a trenchant screenplay and a terrific jazz score, The First Time I Was Twenty takes the traditional story of a likeable misfit and lifts it to an uncommon level of charm, humor and poignancy. Hannah’s family is slightly wacky: her sisters insist that Hannah’s problems will be solved by a nose job (remember that era?); her garage-mechanic father adores her but is clueless about her musical talents; and the only one who seems to understand her yearnings is her gay uncle, who has to hide his own secrets. But Hannah has pluck and determination--and so does this thoroughly delightful film, adapted from Susie Morgenstern’s book for younger readers by Lorraine Levy, whose directorial debut is immensely enjoyable for teens and adults alike.