There are few tennis programs more popular than adult league play. Known as much for its colorful and friendly atmosphere as it is for the competitive nature of the sport, adult tennis leagues thrive all across the country. It was only a matter of time before Hollywood caught on.
The last time tennis fully graced the big screen was the 2017 film “Battle of the Sexes,” starring Emma Stone (and SoCal’s own Kaitlyn Christian) as Billie Jean King alongside Steve Carell’s portrayal of Bobby Riggs. This fall, the camera shifts from the Astrodome to the fictional Acme Indoor Tennis to capture tennis at the grassroots level. Described as “a comedy of unforced errors,” First One In is the story of an alliance of women who are mediocre tennis players eager to hit that perfect backhand or bury an overhead with absolute precision. In true Hollywood fashion, the women ultimately find themselves locked in a battle of good versus evil that plays out with equal drama and comedy on a local tennis court.
Written and directed by Gina O’Brien (Fan Girl, Once More with Feeling), the core of the film is loosely based on O’Brien’s own experience that began with a foray into tennis lessons.
“A number of years ago a friend suggested we take lessons together,’ O’Brien tells USTAsocal.com. “Being home with my young kids at the time, I was thankful for a place to go where I could be with other adults and also have fun and be active. I had never held a tennis racquet before, but those initial lessons soon led to a weekly clinic, then league play and tennis fitness drills every Friday. I’m now one of the addicted, and the people I continue to play with each week were my inspiration for First One In.”
While sports like baseball, football, and boxing have been transformed into cinema blockbusters, tennis has rarely enjoyed the same exposure. Still, O’Brien scoured libraries of film to gain perspective on how tennis has been portrayed on screen.
“I found a list of about 80 films that involve tennis,” O’Brien recalls. “I scanned many of them, then watched several scenes over and over. I love the pace and humor of the tennis scene in Bridesmaids. It never disappoints. And Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951) - I was taken with how he filmed dozens of spectators in the stands, all of them wearing light colored hats, with their heads following the tennis ball - right then left, in unison. The villain was placed among these spectators, but he wore a dark hat and his head stayed perfectly still, as he locked eyes with the protagonist on the tennis court. You’ll see somewhat of an homage to this in First One In, only it involves a really scary baby.”
Still, it’s the quirkiness of the tennis community that makes First One In a must-see for adult tennis fans, especially those who navigate the league space. While the film celebrates the cultural diversity and unique personality traits that each player brings to the court, it also finds the humor within the intense competition that plays out on public and private courts across the nation.
“Each tennis quirk or trait helped create a separate character,” O’Brien recalls, admitting that many of the characters mirror traits of those she’s encountered in her own tennis experienced. “The one who gets herself sick with nerves before a match; the angry player; the older player who wears several braces; the one who laughs during a long rally, and so on. Truth is, on any given day I’m all these players.”
First One In stars Kat Foster, Georgia King, Alana O’Brien, Catherine Curtin, Emy Coligado, Aneesh Sheth, Karina Arroyave, Josh Segarra, and Michael Ian Black. Find it on major VOD/Digital platforms including Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play. View the trailer and more at firstoneinfilm.com.