In Search of a Midnight Kiss - Movie Review
New Year’s Eve—it’s the night of cheap champagne, drunken resolutions, and giddy optimism. It’s the one night of the year, the last night of the year, where anything and everything can happen. It’s a night on the brink, a night of change, a night of the midnight kiss. No one wants to ring in the New Year alone. Writer/director Alex Holdridge explores this overwhelming desire for connection and longingly for change in his quirky romantic drama In Search of a Midnight Kiss.
Wilson (Scoot McNairy), our sensitive writer protagonist, is depressed. He’s newly single, jobless, and has just been caught jerking off to a photoshopped picture of his roommate’s girlfriend… by his roommate… and the photoshopped girlfriend. Embarrassing? You betcha. However instead of getting upset, the fun-loving roommate Jacob (Brian McGuire) takes his friend’s act of lonely desperation as a cry for help. Desperate times call for desperate measures and horny forlorn singletons call for Craigslist. Really, what better place to look for a New Year’s date than on the same website people search for used lawnmower parts? Slightly skeptical, Wilson creates his want ad: “misanthrope seeks misanthrope”—an understandable sentiment.
It isn’t long before a call comes in from a fast-talking mystery woman who demands a pre-date screening. Apparently cynicism attracts cynicism. Surprise, surprise. Armed with condoms (courtesy of Jacob), Wilson sets out to meet his potential midnight kiss. Is it love at first sight? Hardly. This is Los Angles in the 21st century, you know, real life. What is there is reasonable and relatable—a definite interest and a compelling curiosity.
Vivian (Sara Simmonds), the other half of the equation, is a hard-talking aspiring actress who has recently been spurned by her loser boyfriend. She’s a tough shell to crack, hiding behind her wit, furs, and movie star-sized sunglasses. Yet Wilson detects a similar lost soul, and he has until sundown to convince her to spend the remainder of the night with him.
What follows is a low key, eye-opening exploration of a city built on broken dreams and fallen stars. This is the Los Angles you don’t see splashed across entertainment news. This is the Los Angles that, like our characters, has a past, a history, and a crap load of baggage. The locations are unmistakably real and ordinary, but Holdridge’s gentle and loving rendering gives the film an intense and extremely vivid breath of life. There’s magic still left in the haunted buildings of the long dead L.A. Stock Exchange and the discarded, dusty theaters of a bygone era. There’s beauty and mystery in a long forgotten shoe gathering dust by the curb. The enchantment lies in the deglamorized portrayal of L.A. life. Things are shown merely as they are—no fancy backdrops or special effects. The city is as exposed, open, and as naked as Wilson and Vivian—stripped down to the core.
In one memorable scene, Wilson and Vivian find themselves on a stage in one of the deserted theaters. They look out at the empty seats and it becomes painfully clear that theirs’ is not a love story made for the silver screen. There’s no audience, no script, and no director whispering cues. Still, despite everything, the mountains of baggage and slowly reemerging past, there’s an underlying thread of hope. Together, Wilson and Vivian attempt to stage their own show improvising a silly, senseless, and yet fully original tale. The desire to create and connect is palpable.
In Search of a Midnight Kiss is a film crafted around moments—moments of stunning beauty, unspeakable pain, quiet joy, and comforting confession. Holdridge’s dialogue is sharp, witty, and appropriately insightful. One can’t help but be reminded of early Linklater and the sweetly meandering Before Sunrise. Robert Murphy’s striking black and white cinematography (a style usually reserved for pretentious film school projects and foreign fare) is the perfect medium for this down to earth material. Woody Allen’s New York is to Holdridge’s Los Angles.
McNairy and Simmonds ground their characters in a relatable reality and uncompromised innocence. These aren’t movie stars looking for love; they’re just regular people looking to erase the loneliness. The two make good sparring mates and it seems only appropriate that they ring in the New Year together… in their car… stuck in the never-ending L.A. traffic. Similarly, McGuire and Kathleen Luong (the photoshopped girlfriend) add spice and soul to their small, but equally affecting subplot.
Holdridge’s film is sure to convert, or at least sway, even the most hardened cynics. I confess I was among them. I went in expecting a slow-moving tale built around idealistic proclamations of love, but I came out moved by a new sense of hope closely boarding on optimism. It’s this buried, but still present hope that haunts the side streets of Holdridge’s L.A. Wilson was only half right, L.A. isn’t just where love goes to die, because out of the ashes rises new life and new love—L.A. is where love goes to be reborn.