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In Search of a Midnight Kiss

Cinema Paradiso ended with a rapturous montage of famous movie kisses that had been censored out of films over the years at a small Italian theater. It was an homage to the romance of cinema. In Search of a Midnight Kiss opens with a more down to earth montage of average folk engaging in romantic kisses on street corners and under moonlight as Wilson (Scoot McNairy) provides a voiceover narration contemplating dating in the age of the Internet. It's the holidays and he points out that Internet activity on dating site increases 300% between December 25 and January 1, a period of time when people seem to feel especially in need of romance or at the very least companionship. Wilson is one of those people in need.

He has broken up with his girlfriend and now he's Photoshopping a picture of his roommate's girlfriend Min (Kathleen Luong) onto a porn site photo so he can jerk off. To make matters even worse, the roommate and girlfriend walk in on him as he's in the midst of his virtual sex encounter. Wilson needs help and his roommate Jacob (Brian McGuire) has the solution - put something up on Craig's list and get himself a date for New Year's Eve. Uninspired by the desperation of such a prospect, Wilson comes up with an ad for "misanthrope seeking misanthrope." To his surprise someone bites. A woman wants to meet him to see if he's worth spending New Year's Eve with, after all, she doesn't want to spend it with a loser. She's upfront about the fact that she'll be interviewing a few other candidates.

Sara Simmonds as Vivian in In Search of a Midnight Kiss (IFC First Take)

When Wilson meets Vivian (Sara Simmonds) at a coffee shop, he's surprised. First by the fact that she's a pretty young blonde, then by the fact that she brutally rejects one of the other online candidates. But she intrigues Wilson with her brusque attitude. And let's face it, he's desperate for some kind of companionship at the moment. But as the two walk around LA, they start to find common ground and even a little intimacy.

The structure harkens back to the set up of Before Sunrise , the Richard Linklater indie romance that brought a young couple together for a single night. But Midnight Kiss is by no means a mere imitation. Holdridge spins something uniquely his own. For one thing he shoots the film in evocative black and white endowing L.A. with the kind of arty appeal Woody Allen gave to his beloved New York. Kudos to cinematographer Robert Murphy for making L.A. look so good. Holdridge even takes us on an excursion to the Orpheum movie palace where Wilson and Vivian reveal a little of their dreams. It's also the place where the tough Vivian removes her sunglasses as well as some of the prickly layers she has wrapped herself in to reveal a softer, sweeter young woman.

Inside the Orpheumin In Search of a Midnight Kiss (IFC First Take)

Holdridge finds humor and tenderness in this one nightstand. He makes us laugh and even moves us to a few tears as well. But his film works best with his two leads. With Wilson and Vivian, he offers insight into both the male and female points of view. McNairy and Simmonds prove highly appealing in the lead roles. They find the humor as well as unexpected depths in their characters. The supporting cast of characters feels less fresh and more caricatured. But when Holdridge stays with his leads, the film takes off and we feel we're in the presence of a true indie spirit.

Holdridge's only major misstep is the insertion of lame songs for occasional musical interludes. These songs (I think there were just two but they felt like they were longer) had a strained, handmade quality to them, and the most obvious and clich ed lyrics. They could have been cut out for the betterment of the film.

In Search of a Midnight Kiss (unrated) proves that new technology doesn't really change romance. Some of the dynamics are different and you can quickly specify your needs and desires online to cut to the chase more quickly. But in the end, as Sam sang in Casablanca, "a kiss is still a kiss."

Companion viewing: Before Sunrise, Manhattan, Casablanca

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