Albert Brooks is one of America’s best weapons in the battle against cinematic sentimentality. In ”My First Mister” — a tragicomedy of interpersonal relationships that pleads not to be compared with ”Ghost World” — he plays Randall, a beige-colored middle-aged clothing salesman whose cautious life of habit hides some disease-movie-of-the-week secrets. Randall’s tightly ordered world is shaken loose by the appearance of Jennifer (Leelee Sobieski), a scowling 17-year-old who favors piercings and tattoos, and who appears in his store one day looking for a job. Employment leads to friendship, friendship leads to unbelievable therapeutic breakthroughs. Of course, that love means someone’s got to suffer (see secrets above). Joining the caricatured supporting players are Jennifer’s inanely chirpy divorced mother (Carol Kane), her milquetoasty stepfather (Michael McKean), and her pot-ripened hippie father (John Goodman), as well as Mary Kay Place playing a certified MKP-issue spunky middle-aged woman.
But even when Christine Lahti fumbles her pacing in her feature-film directorial debut and falls back on set decoration to tell the story, even when Jill Franklyn overwrites the dialogue in her feature screenplay debut, Brooks guards the movie from overheating in a surfeit of warmedy. Randall may be a fragile duffer, but Brooks’ comic timing is in the pink of health.