There's an old saying in comedy: "Buy the premise, buy the bit." Alex Holdridge's In Search Of A Midnight Kiss asks the audience to buy a whole stack of premises, starting with the idea that a kiss on New Year's Eve is "all the hope of romance of the year culminating in just one moment." In a last-ditch attempt to get the year started right, mopey screenwriter Scoot McNairy posts a request for a date on Craigslist, and gets a call from sardonic actress Sara Simmonds, who tells him he has until sundown to impress her, or else she's going to find someone else to smooch. Contrived? Absolutely. But Holdridge must feel he needs the contrivance to juice up a routine indie walk-and-talk.
In Search Of A Midnight Kiss shows enough flashes of brightness that its more conventional business is all the more dispiriting. When McNairy is caught masturbating to a Photoshopped picture of his roommate's girlfriend, or when he jokes that he would've slit his wrists long ago "if the bathtub here weren't so filthy," or when he grills Simmonds about whether she trimmed her pubic hair in anticipation for their date, Midnight Kiss becomes just another artificial movie about quippy characters trying to out-zing or out-shock each other. But then McNairy's roommate launches into a long, funny rant about how physically dirty and low-down Los Angeles women are, or McNairy objects to wearing clothes on his date that will make him feel humiliated in 10 years, and suddenly the characters come to life, graced with nuance and a point of view.
It also helps that Midnight Kiss sports such an evocative black-and-white DV look, using dissolves to add a romantic touch to the decrepit downtown L.A. downtown blocks and seedy waterfront parks where Holdridge sets the action. The movie has such a strong look and such a keen sense of place that it's hard not to root for it, even when Holdridge is having McNairy run from Simmonds' deranged ex-boyfriend in a scene that could've been ripped from some unproduced '80s teen comedy. Los Angeles is often accused of not having much substance, but even when Midnight Kiss is sputtering, viewers can tune the dialogue out and just watch the scenery in one of the most "there"-y L.A. movies ever made.