With its black-and-white opening montage of couples kissing as a strummy, faux-Chet Baker jazz tune plays, In Search of a Midnight Kiss seems to be warming up for some serious Woody Allen aping. A title card tells us that between Christmas and New Year’s Day, the number of online personals increases 300 percent. And, of course, the title appears to say it all: This is a movie about two lonely hearts who are looking for companionship on the most buss-friendly night of the year.
It’s a relief, then, that writer-director Alex Holdridge quickly takes a crude and very funny turn that morphs the film into something a bit unexpected, if never entirely original. Besides Allen, Before Sunrise is an obvious influence in Holdridge’s story about Wilson (Scoot McNairy), a 29-year-old former video-store clerk and aspiring screenwriter whose life immediately stalled after he moved to Los Angeles from Texas. Wilson wrecked his car on the way, leaving his life’s possessions tossed all over the road. Then the laptop holding his nearly completed screenplay got swiped. Plus, he’s still pining for his ex. In an e-mail to her that he later deletes, Wilson recounts these events and says he probably would have killed himself if his new apartment’s bathtub weren’t so dirty.
So when New Year’s Eve rolls around and Wilson is caught jacking off to a Photoshopped pic of his roommate’s girlfriend, the roommate, Jacob (Brian Matthew McGuire), and the virtually violated but inexplicably flattered Min (Katy Luong) encourage Wilson to place an ad online. “Misanthrope seeks misanthrope,” Wilson sarcastically types, and he gets one cryptic bite from a woman who, between drags on a cigarette, offers only made-up information about herself (“I’m 300 pounds, I’m into bondage, and I like Hello Kitty”) while demanding a quick answer to whether he wants to get together or what. A bit stunned, Wilson agrees. Jacob and Min cheerily give both fashion advice and “The More You Know”-type guidance such as “Don’t eat her out” and “Your nut sack is filled with green cards.”
Vivian (Sara Simmonds) turns out to be an acerbic, high-strung actress who says things like “Books suck.” But she’s kinda hot, so Wilson becomes her puppy while she takes a few hours to decide whether she wants to rock her New Year’s with him. Cue the gabfest: Vivian, always shrill but eventually settling into real conversation instead of constant barbs, and Wilson, who mercifully has the balls to occasionally tell her she’s an asshole, do little but wander Los Angeles and yak.
Though Holdridge’s decision to shoot in black and white adds little to Midnight Kiss’ tone, his choice of locations means plenty. The glossier parts of Hollywood Hills aren’t represented; instead the couple walk through downtown-grungy streets, poke around a deserted Orpheum, and check out the city from rooftops. It’s not New York, but it’s interesting to see the City of Angels humanized and deglazed. The soundtrack, meanwhile, is more obtrusive, drowning the already too-hip but tolerable sensitivity on display in precious indie angst-rock.
Subplots, too, are weak, including Jacob’s plan to propose to Min, and Vivian’s dealings with a crazed ex. But these distractions are necessary padding on a story too thin and uninspired to stand up on its own. With a different cast—and fewer saccharine-cutting jokes—the film might be completely dismissible. But all the actors have a charm: McGuire, who could be Judge Reinhold Jr., is the highlight of each scene he’s in, Luong and Simmonds are radiantly damaged, and McNairy adroitly straddles the depressive line between bitter jackass and hopeful romantic, his John Malkovich-ian, alt-leading-man looks helping him come off as a realistic schlub instead of a pretty boy slumming. Already boasting the longest résumé of the four, McNairy stands more of a chance of sticking in viewers’ memories than the movie itself.