'Misanthrope seeks misanthrope" is how the scruffy, depressed screenwriter headlines his craigslist personal at the outset of the sweetly comic L.A. love story In Search of a Midnight Kiss.
Wilson (Scoot McNairy), in his late 20s and in the dumps, shares an apartment with best buddy Jacob (Brian McGuire) and Jacob's girlfriend, Min (Katy Luong). In the wake of a wildly embarrassing incident involving a porn site and a photo-shopped picture of Min, Jacob urges his pal to post an ad so he won't be alone on New Year's Eve.
Reluctantly, Wilson does. And then a woman calls, arranging a meeting to scope out the guy in person. And there, seated at a cafe in East Hollywood, her eyes hidden by wraparound shades, is Vivian (Sara Simmonds) - a glammy, kooky, Veronica Lake-on-speed kind of creature. She tells Wilson that she had to look misanthrope up in the dictionary.
What follows - walking, talking, flirting, fighting - is a charming piece of low-budget, improv-y filmmaking in the tradition of Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise. And while Los Angeles is no Vienna (the backdrop for Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy's shamblings in Sunrise), writer/director Alex Holdridge shoots faded, decayed downtown Los Angeles with an appreciative eye. In fact, the black-and-white cinematography (by Robert Murphy) is stunning.
There's an element of emotional immaturity about In Search of a Midnight Kiss - but it belongs to the characters, not the film. At once hip and romantic, funny and scarily honest, Holdridge's movie is disarming in its willingness to expose Wilson's and Vivian's narcissism and neediness, their respective vulnerabilities and psychic woes. Both are, or aspire to be, in moviedom: He's getting nowhere with his screenplays, while Vivian - unashamedly dismissive of literature and art - is an actress, of course. And so In Search of a Midnight Kiss is very much a movie about Hollywood, too: the dreamscape, the dreamers.
With a moody overlay of songs supplied by Okkervil River and Shearwater, In Search of a Midnight Kiss also serves as a millennial's answer to Woody Allen's Manhattan: L.A. instead of New York, Okkervil River's Will Sheff instead of "Rhapsody in Blue's" George Gershwin, but a similar spirit - and the beautiful black-and-white photography, too.
In Search of a Midnight Kiss *** (out of four stars)
Directed by Alex Holdridge. With Scoot McNairy, Sara Simmonds, Katy Luong and Brian McGuire. Distributed by IFC Films.
Running time: 1 hour, 38 mins.
Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (drugs, sex, profanity, adult themes)
Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.