“Misanthrope seeks misanthrope” is the craigslist personals ad that Wilson, a screenwriter recently arrived in L.A., places the day before New Year’s Eve. Vivian is the blonde, unemployed starlet who answers his ad and bullies him into a date just hours before the clock strikes midnight. In Search of a Midnight Kiss is the movie that follows these two cynical but hopeful romantics through the streets of Los Angeles. It has the problems that afflict many an indie dramedy, but it also captures a certain vibe that’s winning and affecting.
The film does not start well. Our protagonist (played by Scoot McNairy in an adequate performance) is caught masturbating in the living room ... to a photoshopped nude picture of his roommate’s girlfriend ... and he’s caught by the roommate who finds the situation more comical than creepy ... and the girlfriend finds it “sweet.” Hmmm.
There are other moments in the film that don’t ring true. At one point Wilson and Vivian stand on an empty proscenium stage improvising a play. I don’t need to tell you that the skit is their cute way of working out their relationship. But writer/director Alex Holdridge must think he’s got something special, because the scene drags on and on.
Yet much of the movie has a different ring, of authenticity. I’ve only spent three days in L.A., but this movie is how I imagine the place to be. Despite the film’s low budget, the black-and-white street cinematography (courtesy of Robert Murphy) is well used, and Holdridge creates a sense of place that’s critical to the subtle desperation both Wilson and Vivian feel. And while some of the dialogue falls flat (it’s not clear whether the script or the lack of retakes is to blame), other scenes have a quiet power. I particularly like a morning-after sequence, as two people try to figure out what happens next.
Even in low-budget films, the actresses are usually attractive, a reminder that there are an awful lot of beautiful women struggling to make it in Hollywood. Fortunately, Sara Simmonds is more than a pretty face. She gives a standout performance as the brash but ultimately vulnerable Vivian. The chemistry she finds with McNairy builds as the movie closes in on midnight, with both leads beautifully conveying the emptiness that loneliness can bring. The secondary characters aren’t quite as interesting, and the story gives way too much time to Vivian’s hysterically angry ex-boyfriend. But when it’s just Wilson and Vivian trying to make it till “Auld Lang Syne,” I was happy to root for ‘em.