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Sports journalist Jimmy Cannon once said, “Christmas is a holiday that persecutes the lonely, the frayed and the rejected.” Given the chronological proximity, New Year’s runs a close second. Long before New Year’s Eve we fret over where, how and with whom we should celebrate. Alex Holdridge’s In Search of a Midnight Kiss attempts to poke fun at our obsession to turn the New Year’s kiss into some sort of momentous emotional and existential milestone. After the movie started, I wasn’t so amused.

Another L.A. Story

A kiss isn't just a kiss on New Year's Eve
A kiss isn’t just a kiss on New Year’s Eve

There’s a lot about this movie that bugged me, but I didn’t hate this film. It is well assembled and Holdridge wrote a definite beginning, middle and end. The actors appear to have belief in the story and appear to execute their lines with conviction. The sound, cinematography and production values are solid. Shearwater’s music is also quite good.

Even though the film won awards at the Chicago, AFI, Tribeca, Mill Valley and Florida film festivals, it just didn’t make an impression with me. I just didn’t care. In Search of a Midnight Kiss struck me as a mangled, modern amalgamation of Before Sunrise, Taming of the Shrew, L.A. Story, and Clerks that stumbles toward an Annie Hall-esque coupling of its neurotic leads while maintaining an acidity about relationships reminiscent of Manhattan that nullified any actual hopefulness in the characters or the story. In the process, it neither finds its own voice, nor does it fully explore its thesis. It becomes a short story about two desperate people who hook up on New Year’s Eve and mistake a one-night stand for enlightenment and emotional validation.

As the movie unfolds, we learn of the professional and personal aspirations and tribulations of Wilson (Scoot McNairy) and his mystery date Vivian (Sara Simmonds). Best-friend and roommate Jacob (Brian McGuire) and live-in girlfriend Min’s (Katy Luong) are about to take a slapdash leap into marriage. This juxtaposes Wilson’s hesitance toward dating and life, but it also serves as a call to action.

Rich Man, Poor Man

Wilson bears no resemblance beyond name to Tim Allen’s pithy, comported neighbor from Home Improvement. He comes off like more of a cross between a poor man’s David Spade and a poor man’s Steve Buscemi. Like most angst-ridden, Hollywood young Turks, he’s relatively fresh from somewhere in Middle American suburbia where he left a girl and another life behind.

He arrived in the City of Angels with his master screenplay and the belief he would automatically dominate the scene. When we meet Wilson, he is losing patience with himself for not having made it yet while excessively questioning the value of his existence and his choices. He comes across as a real Gen-whiner and appears flummoxed for most of the film.

To jostle Wilson out of his funk, Jacob goads the last minute placement of a Craigslist personal ad on the morning of December 31. Hilarity ensues when Vivian calls.

Vivian (Sara Simmonds) is a bewildering, if not bipolar, mix of sweetheart and shrew. She is also a small town flower establishing roots in the rocky soil of Los Angeles and hoping to grow into an actress. During the date Vivian so drastically and frequently shifts between acerbic and pitiable that when she ultimately reveals her humanity, it’s almost too late.

No Whining

Overall, it is difficult to have sympathy for this whiny would-be couple. This movie is not Before Sunrise and the lead couple is not Jesse and Celine.

In Search of a Midnight Kiss is difficult to quantify. Even though the black and white cinematography is a refreshing treat, the choice still seems deliberately and self-consciously indie-ish. The backdrops of downtown L.A., Hollywood and Santa Monica Beach steal many of the scenes from the actors. The audience (especially L.A. locals) becomes more engrossed with trying to get their bearings on where in the city the characters are than in witnessing anything that transpires between Wilson and Vivian.

The visual magnificence of Los Angeles further dwarfs the importance of pitiless characters. Wilson and Vivian are like the annoying couple at the back of a walking tour. They are at the back, but they are still talking loud enough about themselves to be distracting and drown out the tour guide.

In Search of a Midnight Kiss is full of characters we already met, having conversations we already eavesdropped on. The movie meanders from its deconstructive thesis without demystifying symbolic value of the New Year’s Eve kiss. Instead, the movie gets mired in the exposition of Wilson and Vivian’s commonplace problems. Ultimately, it merely reiterates the myth of the midnight kiss as a squaring of the books for the passing year and a renewal of hope for the upcoming one.

Even though I was one of the few that took issue with this film, I would still argue In Search of a Midnight Kiss is worth watching. It was instructive to watch a maturing filmmaker hone his style. I just wish it felt like he was really telling one of his own stories instead of seeming like a repackaging and retelling of someone else’s story.