February 13, 2009

Single Sex in the Cyberage

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In Search Of A Midnight Kiss is a date movie. Or rather, it’s a movie about a date. It’s also been described as a romantic comedy, though it is, by design, hardly romantic and only sometimes funny.
Our hero is a twenty-something misanthrope named Wilson (Scoot McNairy), a melancholic aspiring screenwriter recently transplanted to Los Angeles with few friends and fewer prospects. He spends most of his time in the apartment he shares with his friend Jacob (Brian McGuire) and Jacob’s girlfriend, Min (Kathleen Luong), whining about his loneliness and apathy. His self-imposed hermitage is ended when Jacob stumbles upon him in flagrante delicto with a particularly embarrassing image, and forces Wilson to place a personal ad on — where else — Craigslist for a New Year’s date.
At first, this seems an odd choice. Doesn’t Jacob have a friend, or a friend of a friend, who he can set Wilson up with? The Internet seems a sorry last resort. But then again, there is an odd logic to this: For our generation, Craigslist provides immediate solutions to nearly any problem. It’s where we look for jobs, cheap baseball tickets, furniture and apartments. So looking for love, or at least a date, doesn’t seem that odd at all. Embarrassing, to be sure, but not that odd.
Vivian (Sara Simmonds), the first response to Wilson’s ad, is a cold blonde with imposing shades and an ego-bruising attitude — she arranges to meet him at a café as one of a number of potential suitors she is vetting before choosing which one will be her companion for the evening. Even after she chooses Wilson, it is only for a temporary, probationary period, and she seems so bereft of charm or even common courtesy that we wonder why he is working so hard (or at all) to remain in her good graces and keep her around.
Wilson and Vivian’s evening together involves a variety of activities, including, but not limited to, a nice Italian dinner, a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art, a party, a subway ride, a taxi ride, a proposal, a tour of the abandoned Orpheum Theater and a forbidden kiss (though not necessarily in that order). Their tour of L.A. is notable mostly for its lack of the typical tourist sights (if not for the amazing rollerblading scene in L.A. Story, I wouldn’t have ever known that the city even had museums).
The casual ebb-and-flow of conversation between the principals feels natural and credibly uncomfortable. In the casual pace and emphasis on dialogue over plot, Midnight Kiss owes an obvious debt to Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and After Sunset. One difference is that these characters are far sadder (in a pathetic and depressing sense) and less prone to adolescent philosophizing.
By its conclusion, the film has become as much a disquisition on aimlessness as loneliness. Vivian and Wilson are lonely and adrift. By the end of the movie it becomes apparent that what has gone on between them was a moment in-between their respective lives, a messy and abbreviated period of grace before they have to return to the regularly scheduled programming of their sad lives. In Search Of A Midnight Kiss succeeds in capturing this desperate moment, but fails to explain its importance. It is this failure that makes the film the most frustrating and intriguing date movie you’ll ever see.

In Search of a Midnight Kiss is playing at Cornell Cinema in Willard Straight Hall tonight at 7:15 p.m. and tomorrow, Feb. 14, at 10:15 p.m..