In Search of a Midnight Kiss Dir. Alex Holdridge

[IFC Films; 2008]

Cinema’s love affair with Los Angeles has played itself out onscreen for decades. In varied genres and techniques, the people who dot the southern rim of California’s plastic landscape have entertained worldly masses with the truths and lies of Hollywood’s royalty. We’ve laughed, cried, cringed, and danced along to the moods of the City of Angels, as the city turned its lens upon itself. In Search of a Midnight Kiss is no different, paying homage to the various dichotomies within America’s entertainment capital. The high-priced boutiques and soft neon glow of smoggy downtown play host to the introspective tale of Wilson (Scoot McNairy) and Vivian (Sara Simmonds), two down-and-out singles who happen to meet, thanks to Wilson’s cynical craigslist dating ad, on New Year’s Eve.

The film follows the pair as they wade through the emotional sewage of their past and present relationships — typical indie film fare. As the duo stroll around in black and white, their dialogue is full of color. Rather than rely on over-the-top scripting à la Kevin Smith, writer/director Alex Holdridge restrains from filling our heads with vocabulary lessons posing as Shakespearean soliloquies. Rather, Holdridge simply has his leads talk about life the way a broken-hearted pair would if they were a struggling writer and an idyllic actress. Little focus is put on Wilson and Vivian’s Hollywood ambitions, leaving plenty of room to explore a chaotic relationship from its first moments until its last. The performances of McNairy and Simmonds only add to the direct dialogue — neither dare try to make the subject matter more poignant than it needs to be nor do they sell it short as the whining of near-30-somethings.

It’s the setting, however, that sells In Search of a Midnight Kiss short. Los Angeles isn't the most lovable city, and it’s cliché to have your male lead be a struggling screenwriter in loathe with L.A. and even more so to have your female lead be a strong, yet simple actress who adores every nook and cranny the bright lights offer. But the biggest crime is that these character traits do little to enhance their development. The love/hate affair with L.A. does nothing to drive the love/hate Wilson and Vivian have with their own lives, and it does nothing to enhance the secondary relationship of Wilson’s roommate Jacob (Brian Matthew McGuire) and his girlfriend Min (Katy Luong). Holdridge dares to glitz up Los Angeles with black and white imagery but neglects to turn the city into anything more than background -- set pieces to his heartbreaking play.

As a script, In Search of a Midnight Kiss is nearly untouchable: it’s honest, cute, angry, and warm with the overlaying cynicism and sarcasm that draws in those who have been poisoned by Cupid’s arrow one too many times. Holdridge’s deconstructed dialogue owes much to David Mamet and Neil Simon with its archaic but effective storytelling. It’s behind the camera where Holdridge struggles to turn his tale of human romance into the love story he is trying to build for Los Angeles. In Search of a Midnight Kiss is two stories in one: a blossoming and engaging romance (despite incorporating every romantic movie cliché), and an ode to a city that is infamous for its one-night stands and cheap dates. Love is a subject that can always be mined for entertainment, but no matter how you paint Los Angeles to an audience, it needs extra care and attention if you want the city to be shed in a favorable light. Holdridge doesn’t have the cosmetic kit nor the touch to make that happen, even armed with an amazing script.

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