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In Search Of A Midnight Kiss
cast: Scoot McNairy, Sara Simmonds, Brian Matthew McGuire, and Katie Luong

writer and director: Alex Holdridge

90 minutes (15) 2008
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Vertigo DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by David Hebblethwaite
It's New Year's Eve, a time for looking back, looking forwards, and for a very special kind of kiss: the midnight kiss, that crosses the divide between years. Of course, it doesn't happen to everyone, as Wilson (Scoot McNairy) knows only too well. He saw plenty of lonely people at this time of year in his old job as a video store clerk; and, indeed, is one himself: he came to L.A. with a screenplay (until his computer was stolen); and now, he just bums around in the apartment he shares with his childhood friend Jacob (Brian Matthew McGuire), and Jacob's girlfriend Min (Katie Luong).

Wilson's day doesn't get off to the best of starts, when Jacob catches him "relieving his tension" in front of a photo of Min (whose face Wilson has superimposed on a picture of a nude model) - who then calls Min in to have a look, while Wilson hides in the bathroom in shame. Min is actually quite flattered, but Wilson would be better off with a girl of his own. Jacob persuades him that the best way to find one would be to place an ad online; Wilson isn't terribly convinced, and begins his ad with "Misanthrope seeks misanthrope..." But he does get one reply, from the pretty but unpredictable Vivian (Sara Simmonds), who is desperate to find a man before the day is out - as long as he's not, you know, a loser or anything like that. So, will they, or won't they?

More than anything else, its central performances are what make this film work. When we first meet them, neither Wilson or Vivian is particularly endearing: he comes across as a layabout who can only feel sorry for himself, she as being overbearing and cold, treating the business of finding love as just that, a business (Wilson is only one of five men that Vivian is 'interviewing' that day). But, as the movie goes on, we (and the characters) learn better: spurred on by meeting Vivian, Wilson reveals himself to be a decent guy at heart. Vivian herself appears at first to be far more confident than Wilson, and their conversations wrong-foot him constantly (Vivian is keen to interpret even the most innocent comments as evidence that Wilson has dishonourable intentions). But as the pair stroll around the city, taking in abandoned theatres and other out-of-the-way sights, she warms to Wilson, and we start to see something of the real Vivian beneath her façade. For Vivian's confidence is born of insecurity: she came to L.A. with her boyfriend Jack (Robert Murphy), both wanting to make it as actors; but she left him last week (with good reason) and neither Jack nor Vivian's family knows where she is - not that she's about to tell Wilson that. But of course, it can't - and doesn't - stay secret forever, and complications ensue.

There's a pleasingly naturalistic quality to In Search Of A Midnight Kiss. The dialogue (not just between Wilson and Vivian, but also between Jacob and Min, whose story forms a subplot of the movie) often has the feel of real spoken language, the way that when you start to say something, you don't always know precisely how the end result is going to sound. And the storyline progresses in a way that feels authentic - this is what it might be like if two people who'd only just met spent the day wandering the city and tentatively getting to know each other - even though it's still shaped as a story.

Staying with that last point, I should say that, for all its air of authenticity, the movie makes no attempt to hide its fictional nature. The telling has the rhythm of a story, with the main action punctuated by sequences of Vivian and Wilson walking around, or sometimes just by images of Los Angeles, sound-tracked by a song, or perhaps by one of the voice messages left on Vivian's phone (from which we piece together her backstory before she reveals it to Wilson). Most obvious, though, is the fact that In Search Of A Midnight Kiss is filmed entirely in black-and-white; which evokes old romantic films, but also suggests a grittier, urban realism.

For that matter, there's a bittersweet edge to the whole film, which rounds it out and makes the term 'romantic comedy' seem an inadequate description. This is summed up quite nicely by the final scene: when the characters celebrate Wilson's new life with a chorus of the song Wind Of Change, you might find yourself taking a moment to consider exactly what has changed - but you'll do so with a smile.

DVD extras: a five-minute interview with writer-director Alex Holdridge and the main cast (which, despite its brevity, gave me a different way of looking at the film), a number of deleted scenes, and the theatrical trailer.
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