In Search of a Midnight Kiss

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AFI Fest

MILL VALLEY, Calif. -- "In Search of a Midnight Kiss," an amusing ensemble piece about the troubles of dislocated twentysomethings attempting to find their way through life and love, is most effective as a vehicle for its attractive young performers and the film's promising writer-director, Alex Holdridge.

Holdridge aspires to a Woody Allen-style romantic comedy in the vein of "Manhattan" -- a hard act to follow even for a more seasoned filmmaker -- but needs stronger writing and character development to pull it off. Dispensing with crude jokes wouldn't hurt, either. Robert Murphy's crisp, black-and-white cinematography lends class and style to a standard story of a lovable, depressed slacker who blossoms when he finds love in an unlikely place.

If the film gets support from critics and is marketed to a young demographic, it could find an audience, but boxoffice is likely to be modest. The film, which also screened at the Mill Valley Film Festival, has been acquired by IFC First Take.

"Kiss" opens magically with "As Time Goes By" on the soundtrack and the sight of couples kissing on city streets at night. For Wilson (a winning Scoot McNairy), a writer adrift in Los Angeles, unable to sell his screenplay or get over the breakup with his girlfriend, being kissed at midnight on New Year's Eve is his one tangible goal in life. Noting that Wilson is unable to get action or traction, his best friend, the sweet, gawky Jacob (Brian Matthew McGuire), who's smitten with the lovely but faithless Min (Katy Luong), urges Wilson to put a personal ad on Craigslist.

No sooner does he write, "Misanthrope seeks Misanthrope" than he's contacted by Vivian (Sara Simmonds), an out-of-control, neurotic, pill-popping blonde with an alienating habit of uttering whatever insensitive remark comes into her head. The pair gets off to a rocky start as lovers and antagonists, but as they walk the seedy streets of downtown Los Angeles, they slowly find common ground.

Simmonds has an uphill battle as she's trapped in a caricature -- a double-header male fantasy of the nightmare "crazy chick" and the wild, tough-talking girl with a secret vulnerability -- though she shines in sequences where she's allowed dimension. An extraneous subplot involving Vivian's possessive, red-neck ex-boyfriend, Jack, is over the top.

Pushing 30, Wilson is stuck between adolescence and adulthood, and McNairy ("Six Feet Under," "Art School Confidential") projects the likability, intelligence and basic decency underneath his character's slovenly exterior. He's a find, the kind of actor one longs to see again.

With his tall, lanky physicality, McGuire, once Holdridge's real-life roommate, shows a natural comedic aptitude as Wilson's would-be mentor in the love department, a guy who's clueless when it comes to women. Both men display tenderness and hurt feelings in their romantic relationships, which is a refreshing change from the usual glibness.

Inconsistent in tone, "Kiss" vacillates among wistfulness, the genuinely funny and juvenile crudity. Holdridge's dialogue is sometimes forced or hit-and-miss, and he doesn't always stage his shots to best advantage, but he has assembled a crew of talented collaborators.

IN SEARCH OF A MIDNIGHT KISS
IFC First Take
Midnight Kiss Prods.
Credits:
Screenwriter-director: Alex Holdridge
Producer: Seth Caplan, Scoot McNairy
Executive producer: Anne Walker-McBay
Director of photography: Robert Murphy: Editors: Frank Reynolds, Jacob Vaughn
Cast:
Wilson: Scoot McNairy
Vivian: Sara Simmonds
Jacob: Brian Matthew McGuire
Min: Katy Luong
Wilson's Mom: Twink Caplan
Jack: Robert Murphy
Running time -- 97 minutes
No MPAA rating
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