has a way of righting itself when it comes to the arts. Sometimes it
restores clarity and reminds us of the great things out there we had
forgotten and sometimes things are going too well so it’ll regurgitate
something we tried to forget. But there’s usually some sort of balance.
Occasionally something falls through the cracks.
I was thirteen years old and I had discovered that I loved all sorts of movies. Even ones that didn’t feature monsters or electric swords. I found that all movies had the potential to move me. Or make me hate. My parents didn’t have a lot of money but they did invest in cable television and through that medium I was able to find all sorts of movies that influence me to this day. Some for good and others not so much. I knew that when the Robert Duvall directed Angelo, My Love came on (and it came on a lot) I could take a nap because it was a leaden gypsy nightmare. I knew that when They’re Playing With Fire came on I could enjoy the blandest and least sexy softcore in town. I knew that any films that featured the word ‘Meatballs’ and a number in the title was something to avoid like the Hanta Virus.
But Firstborn was special. It was a drama directed by Michael Apted, which is supposed to mean something. It featured an actor I loved as Buckaroo Banzai and the guy in the underrated Of Unknown Origin (which is just on the fringe of being too remembered to qualify for this column)… Mr. Peter Weller. It was the theatrical debut of Corey Haim and it featured the then adorable Sarah Jessica Parker and ever-delightful Robert Downey, Jr. in early roles.
And it featured Christopher Collet, an actor who I used to worship and whom I forgot even existed on the planet until the writing of this article. This guy was my favorite thing in the cosmos for a three week period as a kid and then Tommy Lee Jones waved a device in front of my face and the man ceased to be a part of my thinker. He went from being the best to being mythology. This dude was on the poster for this and The Manhattan Project and it’s as if aliens swooped down and kept his awesome all for themselves. In reality, the 80’s allowed actors with curly hair to succeed and that shit got old [whither Makepeace?]. Mr. Collet is now the owner of a successful Pilates facility in New York with the wife he met while shooting Silk Stalkings, so it was less about alien abduction and more about the business chewing a good actor enough so that he went and got a job more conducive to spiral hair.
I’m making up the Hollywood vs. Curls skirmish. Mr. Collet probably realized what an asshole of a business he was in and escaped to a more sane reality where people treat you like people and you’re able to do interesting stretches on a mat while others do the same.
Firstborn tells the tale of a fragmented family. The father has left the others behind and found himself a fancy new ass to plant it in, and the eldest son [the title of movie is literal you see] becomes the man of the house as his mother (Teri Garr, ubiquitous in the 80’s and gelatinous in the 00’s) tries to keep her head on a swivel and survive. His youngest brother is Corey Haim, which means he’s about to have a great decade and then a not so good one and then a really dogshit one and then no more decades. They are getting by until the new man enters their life in the form of Peter Weller, a person who aspires to be great for their mom but in actuality is a dickhead asshole jerkoff drug dealer shitman*. In addition to sharing his meats, he shares his drug habit with Teri Garr and she becomes a pile of shit too.
Things escalate and it all comes to a big head when the brothers team up to get this lowlife’s ass kicked for him. A baseball bat is used. Things don’t go well. People get slammed around and we all learn a little about ourselves in the process.
I haven’t seen this film since it was new. All I know is that I wore out my VHS copy of the film and that it represented a major milestone for me in terms of the kind of films I watched, what kind of characters I identified with, and in never getting my hair permed. It never went to DVD, no one talks about it anymore, and it sent a very promising young actor to the showers (but not before appearing with Haim in the so-guilty-it’s-not-a-pleasure-at-all guilty pleasure Prayer of the Rollerboys) before his time.
Sorry you fell through the cracks, Firstborn. You weren’t very good but you deserved better.
* Excerpted from the film’s presskit.
Thanks to Doug Lipski for the suggestion!