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Photograph by Robert Murphy
LOOKING FOR LOVE : Wilson (Scoot McNairy) and Vivian (Sara Simmonds) go on a prickly date in Alex Holdridge's 'In Search of a Midnight Kiss.'

Lost Shoe Diary

A personals-ad date takes a sensitive filmmaker 'In Search of a Midnight Kiss'

By Richard von Busack

In blackout, In Search of a Midnight Kiss informs us that there is a 300 percent rise in computer personal ads during the week between Christmas and New Year's, according to the "L.A. Gazette." Director Alex Holdridge commences his film with a parade of late-night kisses in different settings. The narrator and star, Wilson (Scoot McNairy), is your usual cafe Raskolnikov. He is an aspiring screenwriter who just relocated to L.A.--"a place I'd 'loathed my whole life'"--from an Austin, Texas, that still glows in his memory. Right away, Wilson gives us evidence of his spinelessness by PhotoShopping the head of his housemate Min (Kathleen Loung) on a downloaded nude. He is discovered masturbating to the image by Min and Wilson's other housemate, Jacob (Brian Maguire). They write this off as "boys will be boys" behavior. ("I thought it was sweet," Min says.)

Jacob talks Wilson into placing a Craigslist ad, and he gets an instant New Year Eve's date with Vivian (Sara Simmonds). Vivian waits for him at a cafe called La Poubelle ("the trashcan"--these are the jokes, folks). In sunglasses and fur collar, she is a legend in her own mind, a Helena Bonham Carter-style chatterbox. She gushes platitudes (books suck, she hates museums--really, to hell with this woman). But we have seen the inside of her motel room, where a cluster of pill bottles frame a gallon bottle of vodka foreshadowing trouble of some kind.

The two wander around L.A., visiting the Gothamy buildings downtown. Holdridge knows what romantic is--and romantic is New York. The arresting cityscapes in HD 35 mm black-and-white must explain how this indie film has got as far as it has. Holdridge includes one first-rate cut during his tour of the old hulks of movie theaters on L.A.'s Broadway. He zooms into the plasticized marquee of Weeks and Day's 1921 State Theater, now decorated with a Christian dove from the church that rents it; from this artificial bird, we cut to a live pigeon flying out of a jagged hole where the clock used to be on S. Charles Lee's 1927 Tower Theater.

Wilson and Vivian eventually get inside G. Albert Lansburgh's 1926 Orpheum Theater. There, they mount the stage, while Vivian tells of her frustrated hopes of an acting career. In bright light, Holdridge frames the two facing one another, their tilted heads profiled in heart shape. It looked so good, it almost shut out the thought: just think, they used to make movies big enough to fill these theaters.

This is an uneasy film. It flaunts its sensitivity, yet it is highly calculating. Holdridge takes the Kevin Smith route of adding vulgarities that will make the crasser members of the audience stop squirming. And he goes literal shoegazer in a dramatization of a famous Internet lost-shoe project.

Despite the imagery, this film is a film about not having an idea for a film. If Holdridge doesn't hire a writer next time, he will end up alongside every other director that has a great eye and few ideas, making TV commercials.

Movie Times IN SEARCH OF A MIDNIGHT KISS (Unrated; 90 min.), directed and written by Alex Holdridge, photographed by Robert Murphy and starring Scoot McNairy and Sara Simmonds, opens Friday at the Nickelodeon in Santa Cruz.

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