In Search of a Midnight Kiss (United States, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli
In Search of a Midnight Kiss Poster

The average romantic movie is all about "happily ever after." It's about the promise of a romance that lasts for eternity, about soulmates who find each other in a world where the odds are stacked against them. In Search of a Midnight Kiss has a different agenda. This film is all about the moment: how an intense connection can occur between two ships that pass in the night. It's about the heady intersection in the lives of two lonely people who may never again see each other but, in the instance, there's nowhere else they would rather be and no one else they would rather be there with. In Search of a Midnight Kiss is wonderfully romantic and romantically bittersweet. It's not about forever; it's about now.

Whether intentionally or not, In Search of a Midnight Kiss follows the same basic roadmap as Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise. However, with the setting being the more prosaic Los Angeles instead of Vienna, something extra is needed to enhance the romance. Writer/director Alex Holdridge elects to present the movie in black-and-white, a choice that not only hints at the film's low-budget, indie origins but divorces the narrative from the purely real, rational world. In black-and-white, L.A. looks a lot more like Vienna than it would in color.

It's December 31 and Wilson (Scoot McNairy) is dreading spending another New Year's Eve on his own. His roommate, Jacob (Brian McGuire), has an idea: Wilson can put an ad on craigslist and someone is sure to respond before the Witching Hour. Reluctantly, after encouragement from Jacob and Jacob's girlfriend, Min (Kathleen Luong), Wilson agrees, beginning his classified with "Misanthrope seeks misanthrope…" Only a few hours have passed before he gets a response from Vivian (Sara Simmonds), who's "screening" potential New Year's Eve dates. She wants to meet Jacob at a local eatery to determine if he's a nice enough guy to kiss at midnight. They connect and spend the evening wandering around Los Angeles, talking, arguing, breaking apart, and getting back together. They reveal secrets, go on little adventures, but the question remains: Will the midnight kiss occur and, if it does, will it lead to anything more?

While the topics of conversation in In Search of a Midnight Kiss aren't as weighty or compelling as those in Before Sunrise, the chemistry between the actors and the ways in which they relate to one another are. Both of these individuals have been dealt bad hands by love. Wilson yearns for the girl he left back home and Vivian is trying to cut the cord with a verbally abusive ex-boyfriend who cheated on her. They reveal their pasts to each other, but don't talk about the future. Each of them senses that, no matter how real their feelings are this night, they will not be together in a year, or a month, or even a week. But they'll always have this magical New Year's Eve to look back on.

If Holdridge makes a mistake, it's in occasionally breaking away from Wilson and Vivian to tell the parallel story of Jacob and Nim. At the beginning of the movie, we learn a few things about this couple. Nim is getting bored of the relationship, which is two years old, and Jacob is trying to muster the courage to ask her to marry him. While this relationship isn't inherently uninteresting, it leeches time from Wilson and Vivian's Los Angeles odyssey and isn't given sufficient substance to make it more than a diversion.

In movies like this, the most important thing isn't the dialogue or the threadbare storyline. Instead, it's how the actors mesh. Scoot McNairy and Sara Simmonds inhabit their characters perfectly. The trepidation and uncertainty at the initial meeting develops into a wary camaraderie before giving way to something with deeper emotional resonance. We follow them as they take this journey from start to finish, where they begin as strangers and end as potential lovers. As in Before Sunrise, the destination is the least interesting part of the trip. The real pleasure is watching the relationship develop, and much of the credit for this goes to the actors. If we don't believe in their characters, then this becomes a dull, romanticized travelogue of Los Angeles - not the most photogenic of cities.

At just over 90 minutes, In Search of a Midnight Kiss is short - shorter, in fact, than some viewers might prefer. I could easily spend another hour in the company of these two people, learning more about them and watching them peel back the layers of the other's personality. The movie isn't presented in real time, but there's a sense we see all that needs to be seen. The chances they take and the mistakes they make enhance those few moments of bliss when they connect on a level beyond what one expects from a blind date.

Holdridge must be a romantic because it would be impossible for a cynic to make this movie. He is also clearly a keen observer of human nature because the heart of In Search of a Midnight Kiss is how men and women behave toward one another. When it comes to movies, romance is one of the great equalizers: it can form the basis of the most lavish Hollywood productions and the most inexpensive home-made efforts. In Search of a Midnight Kiss may not have cost much to make, but its payoff is huge and the rewards reaped by the viewer are more than worth the price of admission.

In Search of a Midnight Kiss (United States, 2008)

Director: Alex Holdridge
Cast: Scoot McNairy, Sara Simmonds, Brian McGuire, Kathleen Luong
Screenplay: Alex Holdridge
Cinematography: Robert Murphy
U.S. Distributor: IFC Films
Run Time: 1:30
U.S. Release Date: 2008-08-01
MPAA Rating: "R" (Sexual Situations, Profanity, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1