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MOVIE REVIEW

Amateurish 'Kiss' plays it too straight

Sorry, but Alex Holdridge's 'In Search of a Midnight Kiss' is not the epitome of independent cinema.

August 22, 2008|Mark Olsen | Special to The Times

"Misanthrope seeks misanthrope" -- so reads the Craigslist ad placed by Wilson (Scoot McNairy) on the morning of New Year's Eve. A self-described "lonely hunker-down type," Wilson is new to Los Angeles, where he has moved to become a screenwriter, and is the sort of undiscovered good guy about which many an indie movie has been made. His ad is answered by Vivian (Sara Simmonds), a mouthy, moody piece of work and just the kind of quirky-difficult undiscovered angel about whom many an indie movie has been made.

If it were a parody of relationship-youth pictures, "In Search of a Midnight Kiss" would maybe be tolerable, but writer-director Alex Holdridge seems to be playing it with a straight face.

"Midnight Kiss" is Holdridge's third feature, but it feels like the work of a first-timer -- a tonal mess, all over the place and unstructured. When Vivian's ex-boyfriend shows up, played as a redneck nightmare by the film's cinematographer, Robert Murphy, he enters from some broad farce. Every moment he is onscreen takes away from the delicate character study Holdridge would like to be creating (but isn't).

Part of what makes the makeshift stumbling of "Midnight Kiss" even more disappointing is that it arrives at a moment when the American independent scene is bursting with fresh and exciting talent. The terrain of post-collegiate ennui and the foibles of young adulthood have been fertile territory for many current filmmakers -- Andrew Bujalski, Joe Swanberg and the Duplass brothers spring immediately to mind, but the list goes on -- and they are all making the most of the modest scale at which they create their films, attempting to forge a new set of indie aesthetics. Holdridge tries to make his little inexpensive film look fancier and bigger than it is, and so he is in some ways doomed to failure.

Rather than finding creative ways to work through his problems, Holdridge continually bumps up against the edges of what he does not have and cannot do. His film is nowhere near the Los Angeles equivalent to "Manhattan," one of its most obvious touchstones, not because of the way it is shot -- although the black-and-white digital photography is very uneven -- but because Holdridge the writer has so little wit or insight.

Much has been made of the film's use of downtown Los Angeles locations, and it has garnered a fair amount of acclaim for something made on the fly, essentially outside the system, including an astounding, lengthy review in, of all places, the New Yorker. While it is always exciting to see the little guys get ahead now and again, it is disheartening that Holdridge's gimmicky, second-rate tactics are garnering attention when other, far more vibrant and vital young filmmakers are working in more obscure environs.

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"In Search of a Midnight Kiss." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes. In limited release.

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