DVD Review: ‘First Period’

Boys in girls’ clothing. It is perhaps the oldest and, even at this late date, one of the most reliable laughs in comedy. But, as “It’s Pat” and “Nuns on the Run” have taught us, crossdressing is not enough to sustain a feature-length film. It is to First Period’s credit, then, that it has much more going for it than the inherent silliness of its two lead female characters being portrayed by guys in drag.

Brandon Alexander III, who plays new girl Cassie — a self-described “totally rockin’ superstar extraordinaire, you’re welcome” fully convinced of her own awesomeness despite all evidence to the contrary — and Dudley Beene, who portrays frumpy Maggie — a girl so plain and forgettable that she is repeatedly mistaken for a coat rack — have created honest-to-goodness characters. Cassie and Maggie are such funny, multi-faceted comic creations who exist in such a zany, cartoonish version of high school that we often forget they are being portrayed by human beings with a y chromosome. This is not to say that First Period is above stuffing Alexander and Beene into some garish girls’ clothing or wringing laughs out of male actors fondling each other’s breasts. But the movie does this sort of thing in ways that feel true to the characters and their world, however over-the-top and silly those may be.

The plot of First Period is a thin, generic clothesline on which to hang a bunch of gags. It follows the trajectory of every high school movie ever, though, fortunately, it never takes any of its plot turns too seriously. Cassie has just started a new high school where she is immediately ostracized by the cool kids. (In a case of perhaps tipping its hand a bit too far, the two popular girls are both named Heather.) She quickly befriends dowdy Maggie, and they resolve to become popular by the end of the week. This naturally leads to a lot of scheming by the popular kids, led by queen bitch Heather (Lauren Rose Lewis), to take Cassie and Maggie down a few pegs. The whole thing takes place in a hyper-gaudy version of the ‘80s, more like the ‘80s night at your local gay disco than the actual 1980s.

The screenplay, written by co-star Alexander, throws a diverse set of comic ideas at the wall — from a goofy rap battle to a weird scene featuring Judy Tenuta as a psychic to an extended scene of popsicle fellatio — and, to my surprise and delight, most of them stick. As a writer, Alexander especially has a knack for a certain type of raunchy-but-not-too-raunchy verbalism, best exemplified by a long string of euphemisms for getting your period. (My favorite: “taking Carrie to the prom.”) It’s classically jokey and a little bit weird at the same time.

There is definitely a bit of John Waters in First Period’s DNA, especially in its gleeful raunchiness, its love for weirdos, and, of course, its crossdressing lead. Cassie and Maggie are funny and endearing in much the same way Ricki Lake was in Hairspray. But First Period is more of a straightforward comedy than Waters’ work and is mostly lacking the Prince of Puke’s cinephilia and underground spirit, though the advice Cassie’s mom (played by Cassandra Peterson, better known as “Elvira, Mistress of the Dark”) gives the girls captures a bit of Waters’ subversive spirit: “Sleep with the whole football team if they’ll let you!”

First Period is a bit overlong, and the absolutely generic plot leads to some overly familiar scenes and storylines. There are also a few too many semi-sincere speeches in the final third — though the film is smart enough to critique itself on this point, when Cassie says, “If I have to hear one more heartfelt speech I’m gonna period all over myself!” But generally the pace is quick, the jokes come off, and the performers are fun to watch.

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