originally published in the middlebury campus
As a film student, I saw the recent advances in digital filmmaking technology as the greatest gift to independent film since the advent of the 16mm camera. Consumer DV cameras and affordable editing software mean that anyone and everyone has the ability to make a movie. In Search of a Midnight Kiss, shot on DV with a minuscule budget of $25,000, is a product of this flattened filmmaking landscape, and stands out as a fantastic surprise in a year that hasn’t seen many surprises coming out of the independent film world.
In Search of a Midnight Kiss tells the story of aspiring screenwriter and all around lonely guy Wilson, who posts an ad on Craigslist looking for a New Year’s Eve date after being pressured by his roommate/best friend pressures him to stop moping about and find someone to spend the night with. “Misanthrope seeks misanthrope,” the beginning of the ad reads. Abrasive, profane, and chain smoking blonde with bangs, Vivian, responds. She gives him four hours to make her want to spend the rest of New Year’s Eve with him. So begins their journey on the streets of Los Angeles: eating and drinking, walking and talking. They ruminate about life, hopes, dreams, ex-lovers, and sex. They connect, disconnect, make up, and manage to last through the night.
Scoot McNairy plays Wilson with a despondent exterior that hides his stubborn optimism that this New Year’s Eve will turn out better. His optimism is infectious. I have never wanted to see a protagonist succeed as much as I wanted Wilson to succeed. Sara Simmonds as Vivian presents a bit of a problem, however; her performance see-saws between heartbreaking poignancy and over-the-top quirky which makes her character tough to get a hold of and threatens to sink the film at several different points.
Luckily, first-time writer-director Alex Holdridge holds everything together quite nicely. He finds a way to balance the moderately manic comedic scenes and the quiet, subtly affecting ones with the steady hand of a seasoned pro. An impressive feat for any director, but made especially so by Holdridge’s lack of experience and miniscule budget.
In Search of a Midnight Kiss is a bit quirkier than the standard romantic-comedy, but also a bit more straightforward than the mumblecore films from which Midnight Kiss takes its cues. Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are Holdridge’s obvious touchstones, but strains of Aaron Katz’s mumblecore masterpiece Quiet City course through the veins of Midnight Kiss as well. Similarly, Holdridge takes the time to ensure he creates well rounded characters. They have flaws, and he doesn’t hold back from showing those flaws. Holdridge doesn’t force his characters on us, though. Their flaws become part of their personality, and as the film progresses we like them in spite, and at times because, of these flaws.
The gorgeous black and white photography also calls to mind other indie film classics, like Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise and Kevin Smith’s Clerks. In a way these comparisons seem more apt than others because of the way those films understood how other films traditionally operated within generic conventions, and made deliberate stylistic or narrative decisions that sidestepped what would be considered typical. Likewise, Holdridge has a darker vision of the romantic comedy, and pays more attention to the minutiae of daily life than one would normally expect in a film that is, at its most basic level, a genre picture. Normally the emotional zenith of any other romantic comedy, a marriage proposal, is here shrouded in the heartbreaking certainty that the relationship will fail.
There are so many moments where characters don’t act like characters in romantic comedies usual act that eventually the audience must leave behind the vocabulary of genre we have cultivated over years of watching films, and instead search for a new way to view what Holdridge is presenting. In other words, Holdridge forces the audience to stop viewing these characters as characters in a movie, but instead see them as real people, and in a film as surprising and emotionally complex as In Search of a Midnight Kiss, I’m not really sure I can offer higher praise than that.