If “In Search of a Midnight Kiss” were writer-director Alex Holdridge’s first film, I would say it was a pretty promising debut. The black-and-white film is studded with beautifully composed shots and flashes of wit and humor. It’s Mr. Holdridge’s third film, though, and an experienced filmmaker should offer us more than just brief glimpses of talent.
The independent romance starts on the morning of New Year’s Eve and ends about 24 hours later. The kiss of the title, Wilson (Scoot McNairy) informs us, is “not just another kiss. It’s all the hope of romance of the year culminating in just one moment.”
Wilson doesn’t have a date from whom he might get this mythical midnight smooch, though. He’s a screenwriter transplanted from Austin to Los Angeles. Depressed about his lack of success and still not over the girl he left behind in Texas, he can barely leave his house. His roommates, couple Jacob (Brian McGuire) and Min (Kathleen Luong), urge him to post an ad on Craig’s List to find a date for the big night. “Misanthrope seeks misanthrope,” he writes.
Vivian (Sara Simmonds) gives him a call, though she doesn’t seem the type to be looking for a misanthrope - indeed, she had to look up the word when she read his ad. The struggling screenwriter and the struggling actress, both on the rebound and lonely on the second-biggest date night of the year, somehow make a connection. As they wander through the heady streets of downtown Los Angeles, they talk about their hopes and dreams, both wondering if they’ll still be together when midnight rolls around.
Both the time and the location offer plenty of opportunities for romance. As soon as the mood turns amorous, though, Mr. Holdridge seems intent on ruining it. Once Vivian’s stereotypically redneck ex-boyfriend enters the picture, the film turns briefly into a second-rate farce from which it never really recovers.
It’s too bad, because “Kiss” could have been a completely charming film. Mr. McGuire seems to be channeling Andrew McCarthy at his most gregarious, but Mr. McNairy is quite compelling. Mr. Holdridge, when he’s on, can write snappy, contemporary dialogue that’s both real and funny.
The success of last year’s “Once” shows there’s a real niche for indie romance. “Midnight Kiss” will leave viewers in search of a film worthier of filling it.
TITLE: “In Search of a Midnight Kiss”
RATING: Unrated (Adult themes and nudity)
CREDITS: Written and directed by Alex Holdridge
RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS