A charming Los Angeles romance

Something within In Search of a Midnight Kiss gnaws at your soul. It’s the sort of film that makes you question the very essence of your life, creating a duel thought process that flickers between gusts of optimism and chasms of negativity. The truth is of course somewhere realistic and middling, but such is the power of this lo-fi American indie that perspective is temporarily deflected.

All of which is particularly odd given that the film doesn’t seek any great insights into the human condition or humanity’s bigger issues. Its message can be summarised tidily enough; there’s a shard of light in despair but comfortable contention usually masks something more unsettling under the surface.

The setting is Los Angeles, the date New Year’s Eve. Wilson (Scoot McNairy) has endured the worst year of his life and his final day of the year gets off to a bad start when he’s caught indulging in some Photoshop-based onanism. Best friend and housemate Jacob (Brian McGuire) has big plans for the night with girlfriend Min (Katie Luong), but first pressures Wilson into posting an online personal ad. He heads off to meet Vivian, the first woman to respond and whose motivation is to spend midnight with the perfect man.

Wilson’s laidback nature and the occasionally beautiful monochromatic photography initially recall Slacker, Swingers and Clerks, but meeting Vivian for the first time gives the film a different spin. Much like the first encounter with Juno, it’s initially hard to adjust to her razored dialogue and snapping wit – she’s sure captivating, but pretty annoying with it. But as Wilson and Vivian’s day unfolds, In Search of a Midnight Kiss exudes a charm not entirely unlike that of Once. The humour is sharp; occasionally cruel, but grounded in realism. But the film sporadically sparks with an emotion that will just floor you. That director Alex Holdridge can do both in the same brief scene is nothing short of amazing; a shot of one of Vivian’s rejected dates at the stroke of midnight is especially stunning.

In Search of a Midnight Kiss isn’t perfect by any means; some of the edits grind and it’s hard not to occasionally feel that the raw acting is slightly overwhelmed by the vivacious dialogue. But only a hobbyist pedant could deny that these factors make the film any less charming. Romantics, pessimists and film fans alike are sure to rate this as a defining moment of 2008.

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