Tuesday, October 14, 2008

In Search of a Midnight Kiss (2008)

Despondently, Wilson (Scoot McNairy) vainly attempts to find an insta-soulmate on New Year's Eve in Los Angeles. His friend, Jacob (Brian McGuire), has told him the best way to find a girl is through the Internet. Wilson is frankly pessimistic about such a long shot working—the Internet these days has a bad rap when it comes to “online dating,” or efforts to find that special someone. However, with the advanced technology people are able to communicate with one another more speedily and directly from distances that would have previously forbade such romantically-minded endeavors. There were ads in newspapers before, but today some facsimile of love can be found with some clicks, including the typing arranging of one's telephone number or email address. If one thinks of In Search of a Midnight Kiss as the 2000s' answer to the '90s' Before Sunrise (though Richard Linklater may have something to say about that considering he released a sequel to Sunrise appropriately entitled Before Sunset in 2004), then one must note the careening state of affairs—in more ways than one—evidently wrapped in the dissatisfying decay of this particular time. The linkages to Linklater are more than thematic. Anne Walker-McBay produced many of Linklater's pictures, including the Before movies, and she played an ostensibly considerable role as producer in helping to shape this, Alex Holdridge's third film. Midnight Kiss being the first film seen by this reviewer, made by fellow Austin, Texas native Holdridge (as Daniel Getahun notes, the entire cast and crew seems to be from Austin) it revealingly credits Linklater under the “Thank You” section of its closing credits, during which a funky rendition of The Scorpions' touching “Wind of Change” plays.

Wilson represents something almost approximating a burnt-out, chronically depressed and distinctively less winsome version of Jesse, Ethan Hawke's Before character. As played by McNairy (who has teamed with Holdridge in all three of the writer-director's low-budget offerings), Wilson is almost at the end of his metaphorical rope, clinging desperately to some semblance of a fantasy revolving around the girlfriend he lost before he moved to Los Angeles, where he believed he could make it, suffering the nightmarish episode of losing most of his belongings after totaling his car on the drive out to the City of Angels. An aspiring screenwriter, Wilson tries to periodically inform his ex-girlfriend of his progress or lack thereof in Los Angeles. In a scene of stinging honesty, he wallops his keyboard with his fingers, writing to her that, in essence, his life is miserable, he misses her and nothing is proceeding as he had envisioned, only to delete the message and completely rewrite the present predicament of his life as an optimistically cheery and apparent prima facie inevitable success. Everyone wants to prove the person who hurt them that they made the mistake; for Wilson, his written fictional account is as boastful as he permits himself to be. In the flesh he is diffident and markedly self-deprecating.

Which, oddly, may just make him all the more desirous to a certain person “out there,” in the future. For Wilson, the future is now. Under duress, he accepts Jacob's plan to have him post the ad on Craigslist. Shortly after receiving a call from his obliviously auspicious mother (Twink Caplan), he receives an incoming response to his ad. The voice of the woman on the line is stern, astringently inquisitive and cutting, and it belongs to Vivian (Sara Simmonds). She agrees to meet Wilson. It turns out that she is callously interviewing one prospective New Year's Eve date after another at an outdoor restaurant table. Ordered to wait his turn, Wilson observes the vehemently voluble young lady emotionally dismantle a particularly feckless suitor. Intent to not play her game, Wilson directly questions her methods, noting the doubtless devastated fellow he is, along with her—through mere process of elimination—leaving behind. Indignantly, Vivian counters that her time is most valuable and cannot be allowed to be wasted. The lymphatic young man and expeditious young woman walk about the city for a while, she holding a seemingly impenetrable shield, he increasingly liberal in his openness as the fears of embarrassment wane. Despite all pretenses to the contrary, the classic demarcations seem ineluctable.

However, Vivian is not just the usual woman, and Wilson is not just the usual man. Or are they? Eccentricities in cinema take with them an inherent larger-than-life aura, no matter how purposefully petite and intimate the film is. A veritable independent, cheaply produced, Midnight Kiss nevertheless allows some of the same questions to bubble up to the surface that many a “mainstream” picture does. How different from the average disaffected twenty-something is Wilson, or Vivian? She in particular seems graphically expressive, but it is obvious from the first moment the camera admits her fully into view, her verbal speech pattern regimented to simultaneously augment and diminish the loquaciousness behind it, that she has her sights set on acting, and in her unconvincingly buried pain, resting uneasily underneath the facade, she desires nothing less than raptus refuge from her burning personal quandaries. Simmonds is called upon to perform most of the film's heavy lifting, registering, almost like a hip indie Barbara Stanwyck, two separate performances and emotional planes at once. It is a testament to Simmonds's success that a film so intentionally limited by its highly simple story finds such buoyancy and peppery spiritedness in the verbal machinations of one hypnotically compelling woman.

Holdridge sustains that harmony for a tantalizingly extended period of time, but gradually the illusion is at least partly broken through momentary lapses in judgment. Jacob's relationship with his girlfriend Min (Kathleen Luong) should serve as a delightful counterpoint to the place Wilson finds himself. However, the focal point is dissatisfying in its fractiousness. A lovely scene set at a beach involving Jacob and Min captures a definitive beauty, a wonderment at the persistence of love itself. Yet Holdridge seems unable to decide whether or not to further incorporate this relationship in his largely intimate two-person talk-fest or if he should pull back and only hint at the (rather obvious) point and correlation. As a result, Jacob and Min, surely interesting characters, feel half-in, half-out, when it would have been to the film's benefit to choose one option or the other. More troubling, a character of violent disposition is introduced, after numerous narrative warnings in the way of phone calls, and when the payoff finally plays out, the individual on the other end of the line proves to be too pathetic to be taken seriously, like a sizable sacrifice to the out-of-place instinctual crutch of stereotyping.

Shot in sparkling black-and-white, with resourcefully creditable cinematography by Robert Murphy, the film welcomes Los Angeles as its sprawling and inviting proscenium, in which the two souls at the film's center push, pull, struggle and wrestle with one another in the frequently irritating task of perhaps finally finding one another. The story is sensitive but with generous helpings of grounding vulgarity and grit. For these reasons and possibly others, this picture has become seen by some as an homage to Woody Allen's masterful Manhattan. However, this film is far less accomplished and far less complex, and, maybe consequently, far less rewarding and of relatively little lasting importance despite, or possibly because of the demonstrably evanescent qualities that propel its charm. Whereas Allen's picture never stops lingering—the weightiness of the characters' decisions leave a lasting mark upon the viewer; it may well be the Adagio lamentoso of modern relationship comedy-dramas—In Search of a Midnight Kiss, for all of its attributes, quickly evaporates, brought back skyward where it finally returns to the mind at a later date like rain.


Anonymous said...

I will more to say about this later today when I examine it more intricately. I have to teach a literature class now (the important things, eh?) But it looks great. Of course I like this film quite a bit myself, and it certainly is in the running for a possible Top 10 of 2008 birth. Looks like you gave it the old kitchen sink treatment.

Ténèbres à la lumière... said...

Hi! A.C.,
This is so off the mark!...but, if you want to enjoy the benefits that our good friend, S.J., is enjoying right now!...please email me at the address below..with your email
address (I need to attach a doc)...the address that you listed on D'Ambra's site took me to your website.

dcd ;)

Coleman's Corner in Cinema... said...

Even though this is practically seven hours later, I hope your literature class went well, Sam. Looking forward to your more intricate examination.

Dark City Dame, your wish is my command, as always.

Anonymous said...

Well Alexander, not until I read your final two paragraphs did I find out the bad news. You did your usual marvelous job transcribing the film's narrative and character interplay through the first half to two-thirds, but then you intimated it was almost consciously trying to emulate Woody Allen;s MANHATTAN is style, visual design and profundity.
I do not see the film as in that league of course, yet I thought it refreshing, sobering and moderately charming. It probably won't make my Top 10 of 2008 anymore as several others now have seemingly displaced it, but I still like it as does Dan (whom you graciously acknowledged) and others.
Still, Alexander, I can well understand how the female lead in this inde can come across as grating and off-putting, and how even McNairy is a tough pill.(never knew until I read here that Holdridge and the young actor have had two previous collaborations). And I can't contest you on the obvious fact that the film is definitely derivative of Allen and of Linklater, a point you succintly assert. Yet I am in the minority in having some disdain for those two films.
I must see how this film holds up on second viewing, but as is I presently like it more than you do. Still, a rewarding and enriching read in the hallowed halls of Coleman's Corner.

Coleman's Corner in Cinema... said...

Well, I liked it quite a bit, too, but apparently not as much as you and Daniel, Sam. However, you have done an expert job in describing just why it left such a non-thetical, ambiguously sweet impression--which I won't deny myself at all.

My complaints are not "deal-breakers," as they say, just issues that I thought held the film back from the sublime heights to which it seemed to aspire.

And though the character was perhaps somewhat grating, in certain ways, I think Simmonds was nothing less than captivating. In the end, she made the film for me.

The Manhattan comparison is unfair, but strangely I find that many of the film's greatest boosters are making it, so I thought I had to respond to that in the review.

Last when when I sat down at my computer at about quarter past 4:00, I thought, as I had for weeks since seeing this, "I don't know if I have anything to say about it." Nevertheless, I just began writing and hammered this out. It had an airiness to it, as I said to Daniel, that seemed to go against efforts of analysis, but that turned out to be untrue. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed taking this in, Sam.

K. Bowen said...

Oh, I smell love in here. :)

I'm not sure if this film will quite make my top ten, but Ireally enjoyed it, and it gave me some confidence that indies are starting to look back up, and back towards life rather than The Visitor-like designer bleakness.

I can see you've been busy, Alex, watchign films I really like.

Coleman's Corner in Cinema... said...

Yes, KB, I have been busy here recently. :)

I knew you enjoyed this a great deal, and it made you believe in indies again.

A true indie, besides!

K. Bowen said...

Believe might be a little strong. Hope is a better word.

Definitely Richard Linklater and Before Sunrise. He's thanked in the credits.

Coleman's Corner in Cinema... said...

Keep hope alive.

Daniel said...

Alright, so I know I'm about a week behind here, but I've been looking forward to this. And thanks for the mention!

An excellent and really interesting review. Like Sam, I was held in suspense until near the end. Unfortunately, the brilliant point you make about Manhattan being the more lasting film almost makes me like Midnight Kiss less! No, just kidding, but that really is true. For that matter, so is your point about Min and boyfriend not being more flushed out.

In one sense, I guess, maybe Midnight suffered from these outside distractions (technology, a holiday, extra characters), while the Before films and Manhattan are, ironically, simpler films.

In any case, I find Holdridge to be a promising American to watch.

Oh, also, I've just seen that Scoot McNairy is doing commercials for Dex. I guess Midnight Kiss really must have been low budget...

Coleman's Corner in Cinema... said...

Haha, thank you, Daniel. You're correct, that right there is definitive proof that Midnight Kiss had a diminutive budget.

I think Midnight Kiss was at its best when it focused on the two leads, but I actually probably liked the Min and Jacob characters more than Wilson and Vivian (though Vivian in particular is a finely sketched characterization--wonderfully performed by Simmonds--and, as I said to Sam, was the highlight of the picture for me). It's a fairly minor criticism, and I don't think this should have been a longer film than it was--97 minutes felt about as long as was necessary here--so I understand the need to not become derailed from the main story.

Probably the greatest distraction to me was (SPOILER) Vivian's husband. It introduced "conflict," and while it was not ineffective on its own terms, I didn't care for the stereotype of a character that was brought into the fold.

As always, Daniel, no problem getting into the fray late! And you're quite welcome, concerning the mention.

K. Bowen said...

I thought Simmonds was great. And Scoot has a cool name.

Coleman's Corner in Cinema... said...

Yes, Simmonds made the movie for me. Scoot McNairy, ha, yes a memorable name to be sure.

Anonymous said...

I hated this movie. I'm sooo over whiny young people whining about nothing.

But your review is exemplary.

ratatouille's archives said...

Hi! A.C.,
This is so off the mark!...but, if you want to enjoy the benefits that our good friend, S.J., is enjoying right now!

ps. Alexander, I plan to email you with some updated information about
G.McCall film noir list.

dcd ;)