"In Search of a Midnight Kiss" is resistible at first buss -- there's little initial rooting interest in the sad-sack hero's courtship of an obnoxious blind date.

The kind of quirky Amerindie romance that was more salable when the genre was still a novelty in the 1980s, “In Search of a Midnight Kiss” is resistible at first buss — there’s little initial rooting interest in the sad-sack hero’s courtship of an obnoxious blind date. But pic finally does prove winning, as writer-helmer Alex Holdridge’s character dynamics thaw, and gorgeous black-and-white photography of seldom-exploited L.A. locations weave a spell. Theatrical prospects in the current arthouse climate are iffy, but fests and New Director showcases should pay attention. On- and offscreen talent will find this a smart calling card.

Recently single failed writer Wilson (Scoot McNairy) is pushed by friends into posting a relationship ad on the Web on New Year’s Eve. That the self-deprecating “Misanthrope to Misanthrope” ad he reluctantly writes gets a response at all is surprising. But then Vivian (Sara Simmonds), an attractively glamorous blonde, is full of surprises, most unpleasant.

Wilson arrives at the designated cafe among several other people “auditioning” for her, and Vivian seems so rude and angry that being chosen as her date that night doesn’t seem like much of a gift. Still, Wilson is at a low enough ebb that anything is better than outright rejection.

Naturally, romantic-comedy conventions are honored: Despite some speedbumps, the duo increasingly get along; Vivian grows less abrasive, and eventually backstory explanations for her defensive manner are revealed. While the writing occasionally still hits an overly crass note, “Midnight Kiss” is one of those movies that gradually charms the viewer into strong identification with initially off-putting characters.

Perfs are aptly quirky and ingratiating, Holdridge’s seriocomic balance nicely judged. But the most outstanding element in an accomplished low-budget package is Robert Murphy’s lensing, which recalls “Manhattan” in its B&W celebration of a cityscape. Locations utilized are refreshingly not the usual screen Los Angeles, from the subway to the still-magnificent interior of one among many shuttered downtown movie palaces. A 35mm transfer is planned.

In Search of a Midnight Kiss

Production

A Midnight Kiss production. Produced by Seth Caplan, Scoot McNairy. Executive producer, Anne Walker-McBay. Directed, written by Alex Holdridge.

Crew

Camera (B&W, HD), Robert Murphy; editors, Frank Reynolds, Jacob Vaughn; sound, Tom Marks. Reviewed at Mill Valley Film Festival (U.S. Cinema), Oct. 6, 2007. (Also in AFI Los Angeles Film Festival -- American Showcase.) Running time: 97 MIN.

With

Scoot McNairy, Sara Simmonds, Brian Matthew McGuire, Katy Luong, Bret Roberts, Twink Caplan, Robert Murphy.
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