An aspiring writer longs for love on the last day of the year in the new indie romantic comedy In Search of a Midnight Kiss. Wilson (Scoot McNairy) grudgingly goes online to find a New Year’s Eve date, and he gets more than he bargained for in Vivian (Sarah Simmonds), a nutty actress whose social shallowness masks her personal depth of feeling. Writer/director Alex Holdridge makes this shoestring indie a convincing feature primarily by the gorgeous results cinematographer Robert Murphy get from an HD camera tuned to black and white. By design, the photography of Los Angeles winningly evokes Gordon Willis’ work on Manhattan.
As for the central romance, Vivian seems the sort Wilson would accept only because he's desperate, though neither Holdridge nor McNairy plays it that way. Her cruel dating games and speedy repudiation of anything intellectual (books, museums) sap our interest that these two will get together (to be fair, McNairy's self-defeating slacker is not exactly the catch of the century). It's hard to believe this woman would pull Wilson out of his severe depression instead of further into it, but he plays along gamely, proving his stand-up-guy-ness by finagling a private self-guided daylight tour of the shuttered Orpheum Theatre (yeah, right) and risking limb if not life by inserting himself into Vivian's domestic dispute with her ex.
In story terms, In Search of a Midnight Kiss most closely resembles Before Sunrise. It's New Year's Day from start to finish, with a bit of the morning after as falling action. As a neighbor says, "It's the New Year's. Out with the old, in with the new." The day begins with Wilson's horrible embarrassment at being caught masturbating to a picture of his roommate's fiancee, followed by the terrible trepidation of posting a dating notice on Craigslist ("We're going to be robbed. I'm going to be raped"). But his journey with Vivian (funny name, that) gives him hope for a new day and a new year. "We're all just hanging by a thread," says Vivian, so we might as well enjoy ourselves.
It's an interesting device to see Wilson's depression melt away even as Vivian's issues bubble to the surface, but it's much easier to sympathize with Vivian than empathize with her. Holdridge fares best at the film's climax, a couple of bombshells dropped post-midnight. The confluence of events allows the film to arrive somewhere that may not be original, but feels honest and gives the actors a chance to show what they can do. But at other times, the film seems to be chasing the same old indie dragon of quirky escapades that can be shot on the cheap.