For those of you who know, I write a lot about mumblecore. Well, lucky for you, this was not a mumblecore movie. This was, instead, a movie about youth that had some shocking components: Character development! Humor! Wide-angle shots!
It’s a pretty damn good movie. Only time will tell if it makes it into the canon of “24 Hours Love” picks — in which two people meet and spend the day/night together and fall in love. (Think Before Sunrise, Roman Holiday, Last Tango in Paris, etc.)
In Search of a Midnight Kiss (2008, dir. Alex Holdridge) – A guy posts an ad on Craigslist for some company on New Year’s Eve and spends the day and night with a sassy girl who has a secret.
In Search of a Midnight Kiss is, by my count, the third movie of its kind in the past year: restless twenty-somethings walking a city and discovering each other. The other two are Aaron Katz’s Quiet City (New York) and Barry Jenkins’ Medicine for Melancholy (San Francisco). In Search is — GASP!!! — Los Angeles of all places, which is its greatest strength. One of the pleasures in this movie is seeing L.A. as if it were New York — ten years ago: abandoned theatres and storefronts, a gritty subway, classic buildings, warehouses with the windows blown out, sparse foot traffic. (It isn’t all dire — LA’s downtown has gentrified too, and as the movie progresses, you see more, like the famed Frank Gehry-designed symphony hall). This isn’t just a backdrop, the movie integrates the city into its narrative, using the “dead city” motif as a metaphor not only for America (there’s a reference to fallacy that America will always progress) but also the relationship: they are just getting to know each other, love’s seed under barren soil. L.A. works perfectly as the backdrop for a tale of urban loneliness.
Even more refreshing was the female lead. Finally, a love interest who is assertive — at first, comically bitchy — and smart without being a proxy for Woody Allen (like the incomparable Julie Delpy in 2 Days in Paris). Vivian is an aspiring actress (I’ll forgive the cliche; c’mon, there’s a lot of actors in L.A.), who has never heard of MoCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) but who is an art lover nonetheless. She takes photos of lost shoes she sees around the city, and, in one of several nods in the film to Web 2.0, publishes them on a website. She is fan of what sounds like PostSecret.com, or a close cousins, in which people write in confessions on postcards. She likes art from the street, in other words, not stuck in a museum. I appreciate that.
She’s also hilarious. For the first twenty to thirty, she’s all one-liners. Most of the audience in my showing didn’t laugh, but you can’t expect straight people to appreciate excess and exaggeration. In one great line, the male character, Wilson, remarks in his goody-two-shoes way that she shouldn’t have rejected so quickly a man who’d also responded to her on Craigslist because he might go home and commit suicide, slit his wrists. The guy was loser: old, fat, ugly. She remarks: “people who get to that point should go ahead and do it because once you get to that point you’re going to hell anyway.” And then she skips onto the subway. NBD.
We find out later that this is all a facade, a defense mechanism. Throughout the movie she slowly unravels — much like Julie Delpy in Before Sunset — takes off her sunglasses and opens up. This is Vivian’s movie. Once again: how refreshing to see a male director take the attention off the angsty male lead and give it to the strong woman.
It was such a delight to see a movie about young people who have some direction in life, even if if life’s curve balls throw them life, and to see a film who’s writing, direction and cinematography (the movie’s gorgeous) and strive to integrate love, loneliness and the city.