"First Love" is like one of those made-for-TV movies you turn on for background while reading the paper - not compelling enough to hold your interest, but with enough endearing and funny moments to make you look up every now and then.
It's certainly not the plot that holds your attention. "First Love" is the basically hohum story of a romance between an inexperienced college boy and a girl who's been around some. Everyone tries very hard, and there are a few feeble attempts at suspense, but the viewer never really gets involved enough to care how the affair ends up.
But if the story line isn't exactly what you'd call gripping, it is at least enlivened by the attractiveness of the actors. Just when your attention starts to waver, someone does something cute or touching or vaguely reminiscent of your own first love, and you're sucked back into their dream world for a little while longer.
William Katt and Susan Dey do a convincing job as the lovers, given the material they have to work with. The movie goes easy on the young-lovers-frolicking-in-the-snow sort of scenes that were so cloying in "Love Story" (these lovers do frolic, but mostly in bed), and although some of the scenes are a bit too idyllic to ring true, that's not where the movie breaks down.
The calamity is in the choice of Katt as the inexperienced Elgin Smith. Katt, who as everyone must know by now played the high-school teen dream in "Carrie," does the best he can to turn himself into a insecure schoolboy, but the role is just too sappy for someone with his charisma. Elgin's the type of guy who's got to romanticize and analyze everything half to death, until you want to grab him by his soccer shirt and shake him back to reality. Instead of rooting for the couple, you wonder what Caroline could possibly see in this self-absorbed, hopelessly idealistic young man, and why it takes her so long to go back to her older, more experienced lover. He may not be as cute as Elgin, but at least he's an adult, and he probably doesn't pester her the way Elgin does each time they make love ("Was it as good for you as it was for me? Do I satisfy you?"). Elgin may think he's being charming, but the overall effect is that he gets on your nerves. William Katt shouldn't affect you that way.
Katt is supposedly on his way to becoming the heartthrob of the '70s, but if this movie is going to further anyone's career, it's that of John Heard, the burnt-out underground newspaper reporter in "Between the Lines," who here plays Katt's engagingly cynical friend. He and Beverly D'Angelo, the campus floozie with the heart of gold, bring sorely needed sparks to the movie and are a refreshing foil to Katt's and Dey's annoying self-absorption. Their love life is just as screwed up as the stars', but at least they have some fun while they're at it.
"Fist Love" is almost completely lacking in insight, and William Katt, as already stated, is just too magnetic to do anything at all with the leading role. But if you want to get magnetized, that's as good a reason as any to see it.