MISANTHROPE SEEKS . . . MISANTHROPE So, do Alex and Vivian get what they want?
As the retro guitar music twangs and the overwritten voiceover of the lovelorn, nebbishy hero backs black-and-white images of Los Angeles (filling in for Manhattan), one has a hard time forgiving the baleful effect Woody Allen has had on American independent movies. That, and independent filmmakers’ onanistic insistence on making movies about characters very much like themselves.
|Written and directed by Alex Holdridge | with Scoot MCnairy, Sara Simmonds, Brian Matthew MCguire, Katy Luong, Bret Roberts, Robert Murphy, and Twink Kaplan | Ifc | 98 Minutes|
Like Wilson (Scoot McNairy), In Search of a Midnight Kiss
writer/director Alex Holdridge’s Woody Allenish stand-in for himself, an aspiring screenwriter and video-store clerk who, as he verbosely informs us in his overbearing narration, is trying to remain aloof from the enforced romanticism of New Year’s Eve, especially since his true love broke up with him six years ago. His roommate and childhood friend Jacob (Brian Matthew McGuire) chides him and suggests he take out a personal ad on Craigslist for a last-minute date. Alex grudgingly obliges, writing “misanthrope seeks . . . misanthrope.”
Try counting the indie clichés in that premise. But there are lots more to come. Holdridge even slums in the mainstream by sampling a slice of American Pie when Wilson is caught with his pants down paying his respects to a photoshopped porn shot of Jacob’s live-in girlfriend, Min (Katy Luong). That plot thread does introduce a note of kinky sexual intrigue that might have been followed up by, say, David O. Russell. Especially since Jacob, as played by the gangly, sweet but hapless McGuire, would have been a more appealing protagonist. (McNairy comes off as Steve Buscemi’s less talented younger brother.)
But Holdridge is committed to following Wilson through his self-pitying, self-conscious New Year’s adventure. He finds his own Annie Hall (or is it Julie Delpy in Before Sunset?) when Vivian (Sara Simmonds) responds to his ad, setting up a rendezvous and giving him about 10 minutes to sell himself before she moves on to the next name on her list. Although foul-mouthed, abusive, and utterly unappealing, Vivian is not the tough cookie she pretends to be . . .
When Midnight turns its gaze from its own navel, cutting out the voiceover, and takes in the offbeat sights of downtown Los Angeles — the empty theaters, a montage of lost shoes (Vivian’s hobby is taking photos of lost footwear) repeating the familiar observation that you never see a complete pair — it musters up a visual beauty that elevates it from mere routine. Credit cinematographer Robert Murphy for that, but deduct points for his portrayal of Jack, Vivian’s abusive redneck ex-boyfriend. Is it to laugh when Jack harangues Wilson over the phone about how he’s going to kill him? Are we getting serious now? I’m all in favor of contrasting tones in movies, but this clumsy device merely exploits a tragic situation for cheap laughs and/or cheap pathos, depending on the erratic whim of the filmmaker.
Although critics have climbed all over In Search of a Midnight Kiss with the zeal of their gushings over The Dark Knight, for at least two-thirds of its length it plays like a glossary of alternative stereotypes, at times sagging into the zaniness of a straight version of a bad gay romantic comedy. Like Wilson himself on New Year’s Eve looking for the woman of his dreams, the plaudits for this film speak of deluded desperation.