What's in the water in Austin, TX? It's apparently not only the best place in the country to see live music, but increasingly also a breeding ground for independent filmmaking talent (see Wes Anderson, Mike Judge, Robert Rodriguez, Terrence Malick, Richard Linklater, et al.). Having only seen Alex Holdridge's latest film (his third), In Search of a Midnight Kiss, I would unquestionably add his name to that list. Teaming up with Austinite actors Scoot McNairy (for the third time) and Sara Simmonds (for the second), Holdridge has created an honest romantic comedy set in...Los Angeles. Nevermind, the entire crew is from Austin, as are most of the bands featured on the soundtrack.
In different ways, In Search of a Midnight Kiss brings to mind hip cable television comedies like "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and retro-hip indie films like Before Sunrise (which along with this film and many of Richard Linklater's other films was produced by Anne Walker-McBay). Its characters are attractive, witty, and sarcastic, and its romance is mature, intelligent, and realistically bittersweet. As it happens I could say the same things about last year's 2 Days in Paris, which was the passion project of Julie Delpy, star of both Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.
Wilson (McNairy) has recently moved to L.A. after being dumped by his girlfriend, his current depression compounded by the fact that he wrecked his car on the drive out to California and lost most of his belongings. Seeking refuge with his best friend, Jacob (Brian McGuire), and Jacob's girlfriend, Min (Kathleen Luong), Wilson finds himself lonely and lethargic on the morning of New Year's Eve. Jacob needles him into posting an ad on Craiglist for a New Year's date; Wilson reluctantly complies, leading his ad with "misanthrope seeking misanthrope". After almost immediately receiving a bizarre phone call (is there any other kind involving Craiglist?) from a cryptic but captivating woman, Wilson soon finds himself on an early afternoon blind date with Vivian (Simmonds), the kind of person who hides her vulnerable sensitivities behind mischievous lies and sexually charged flirting.
The rest of the day is a test, we learn, as Vivian presents Wilson with an ultimatum: she'll leave him by sundown unless he can win her over and prove worthy of an evening date that will presumably lead to the celebrated "midnight kiss". Tensions rise and fall and rise again as the two navigate their way through each other's pasts and emotional hang-ups, and we eventually realize that as much as we would like to see them succeed in this venture, we know the realities of the new year (as in Linklater's Before Sunrise) may make things difficult. One of these developments was an unnecessary stretch for me, but it was forgivable in light of the movie's overall commitment to authenticity.
Don't look for long dramatic sequences or major memorable moments in In Search of a Midnight Kiss, because it's in the subtle details that Alex Holdridge's talent shines through: the briskly paced scenes featuring rich dialogue packed with witty jokes and references, the realistic characters with their embarrassing confessions, and the beautiful black and white cinematography that ironically shows Los Angeles in more intimate and vivid detail than any polished promotional video ever could. The camera frames, zooms, and observes L.A. in a way that establishes the city itself as a character with as many flaws and unique traits as our pair of hopeful romantics.
In Search of a Midnight Kiss is, frankly, the kind of old-school independent film that has been noticeably absent from movie theater screens in recent years. This is not a major studio film packaged and marketed through an art-house subsidiary like Fox Searchlight (just for the sake of comparison, check out the full cast and crew lists for Midnight Kiss and Searchlight's "independent" Street Kings and Juno). This is apparently the real deal - the work of a group of friends who are passionate about telling realistic stories on screen. Robert Murphy, for example, played Vivian's ex-boyfriend (quite memorably) and also wrote and performed two songs on the soundtrack. Oh, and he was the cinematographer responsible for the brilliance I've already mentioned.
If you're in search of a charming independent film, look no further than this little treasure. Like its main characters, In Search of a Midnight Kiss embraces its flaws and wins you over with its winning attitude and honest emotions - not to mention its tragically hilarious comedy. There is no pretense and no great effort to be ultracool, just the natural flow of a day in the life of a couple people looking for love on one of the loneliest days of the year. It won't resonate emotionally with everyone, but it should nevertheless restore your faith in American independent film.
Writing - 9
Acting - 10
Production - 9
Emotional Impact - 9
Music - 5
Social Significance - 5
Total: 47/50= 94% = A