In Search of a Midnight Kiss is knowingly attuned to the zeitgeist, its lovelorn protagonist Wilson (Scoot McNairy) a former Quentin Tarantino-ish video store clerk who, after a lousy maiden year trying to make it as a screenwriter in L.A. and pining for his ex (a la Swingers), first is caught pleasuring himself to a photoshopped pic of his best friend’s girlfriend and, soon afterward, gets a shot at love via Craigslist. Alex Holdridge’s romance—about mopey Wilson’s unlikely day-night blind date with assertive Vivian (Sara Simmonds)—is laced with such contemporary technological and/or cinematic references, the most blatant being the story’s striking resemblance to Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, which also concerned two strangers meeting and falling for each other while strolling around a city chatting for a constrained amount of time. Derivativeness, of course, need not be fatal, and the first-time director’s portrait of solitude negated and desperate longing fulfilled—strengthened by lovely Manhattan-ish black-and-white cinematography of Los Angeles, here cast as a barren wonderland fit for lonely souls—boasts an endearingly idiosyncratic, unfussy vibe.
Less tolerable, however, is much of Vivian’s early, blustery proclamations about hating men and wanting to be an actress, as well as the film’s later, affected pretensions, such as a slushy still-image montage that follows Vivian’s admission that she photographs abandoned shoes (and posts them at thelostshoeproject.com, no less), separate scenes in which Vivian and Wilson both discharge a single, pitiable tear, and an unremittingly forlorn indie-rock soundtrack. As the two wend their way to a party where Wilson’s buddy Jacob (Brian McGuire) plans to propose to Min (Kathleen Luong), a series of small incidents and arguments bring them closer together, with their—and, specifically, Vivian’s—defensive abrasiveness melting away in favor of wounded-heart softness. While both struggle to mitigate emotional alienation, their rapport predictably morphs from tentative and hostile to warm and fuzzy, a transition that’s handled admirably by the two leads (whose relaxed charm helps offset their characters’ needy self-absorption and thumb-twiddling sulkiness), even if it mostly feels like the foregone conclusion of a contrived, overly precious narrative that must inevitably climax with a New Year’s Eve smooch.