September 26, 2008

REVIEW: In Search of a Midnight Kiss (A)

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


  1. Kudos to you Dan! You have penned one of your finest reviews since I have been visiting your wonderful site. But no wonder, the film's inimitable look and rich dialogue (which you rightly site) favorably conspire to produce one of the year's most entertaining films, and a sure bet to strongly contend for a ten best list. Your writing is descriptive and eloquent and your traditional compartmental breakdown as always seems perfectly reasoned. I loved that black and white photography myself, especially.

  2. Now this I want to see as soon as possible, and your high rating makes my expectations even higher. Nice job Danny :)

  3. Thanks, guys. Again, Sam, it was the early positive words by you and Craig that helped get me to the theater to see this, and now it's tragically already gone for those who missed it in MSP. Maybe it's on the way, Nick...

    The ultimate grade here kind of symbolizes how the movie works - you can't say anything is absolutely, terrifically, and memorably outstanding, but you can hardly point out any flaws, either. I do mention the one plot development that I didn't love, but aside from that I would wonder if people can seriously criticize it unless they have a personal annoyance with the characters. In that way it's similar to My Blueberry Nights, although this one doesn't have a legendary director's filmography to live up to.

    I had another thought - maybe these guys are picking up where Kevin Smith left off 10 years ago with Chasing Amy (ignoring his new movie). That's a good sign - we could use more romantic American indie comedies like this and 2 Days in Paris.

  4. I really liked this too, although I never got around to writing a review. I agree with your observation that it does kind of pick up where Kevin Smith's "Chasing Amy" (another movie I very much like) leaves off.

  5. Thanks, Pat. I'm glad it made its way to you, and that you had the same reaction. For what it's worth I didn't even like Chasing Amy that much because of Joey Lauren Adams' voice! But it was a solid effort and a fresh movie.

  6. Great, fluid review here, Daniel. I especially liked how you sort of communicated the breeziness of the film with the way you wrote this piece.

    I really ought to get to reviewing this one, but I think Burn After Reading, just for one, will go ahead of it.

    Guess I should've stopped myself from reading your review, as I haven't written my own yet, but I couldn't. Well done!

  7. Great review, Daniel. I'm digging your culinary taste here. I heard some positive things about this movie at the AFI Fest in November, but didn't go to see it.

    I have a hard time believing someone like Sara Simmonds would not have a date for New Year's Eve, but the more you think about how hard it is to meet anyone in L.A., it's almost believable.

    I'm adding this to my queue. Keep your review coming. Getafilm has become one of my frequent stops on the web for info about movies.

  8. Ha, no worries, Alexander, and thanks a lot for the compliment. I have no doubt you'll do justice to it if you find the time. It's weird, I didn't find myself with much to say about at first either (I saw it like two weeks ago), but slowly it came together over the course of a couple days.

    Thank you very much, Joe. I'm not always motivated to write reviews, but some movies need the attention and as people gradually compare their thoughts to mine over time, they'll know whether to laugh off my recommendations or give them a shot. We all like to say how objectively superior some films are to others, but individual taste must be given some consideration, and for what it's worth I've been continually surprised at the movies and, now, actors that you feature - some day I feel like we're going to coincidentally write about the same movie on the same day!

    I'd be really eager to hear what you and other Angelenos have to say about not just the authenticity of someone like Simmonds being alone on New Year's (man, there is a really tragic character that IS alone, though), but the authenticity of the city vibe itself. Considering Holdridge and the gang are not natives, I wonder what you all think about their perspective on the city.

  9. I thought about moving to Austin because of the rad indie music scene and the amazing film scene. I ended up in Salt Lake City. I'm happy here, but then again, it's not snowing yet.

  10. I'd be more concerned that it's not Austin yet...

    Just kidding. I had a lay over at the SLC airport a few months ago, which is the closest I've been to the city. The mountains looked nice.


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