An uneven, intermittently charming indie romantic comedy, “Two Night Stand” means to embrace the jittery folkways of millennial dating and wrap them into a traditional love story. Given the hair-raising uncertainties of urban romance today, that may be a cake to have and eat only at the movies. Director Max Nichols and screenwriter Mark Hammer have their fingers on the generational pulse in this twitchy tale of two drifting New Yorkers (Analeigh Tipton and Miles Teller) who meet on a casual dating site, spend the designated night together — then find themselves snowbound, stuck with one another, and having a real conversation.
The movie is more or less a two-hander unfolding in two cramped rooms, so everything hangs on the banter, which alternates giddily between smart and smart-aleck; until a visual treat at the end, there isn’t much to look at. The result will likely go down easy with youngish singletons who dream of free-range hookups topped with love eternal. Moviegoing boomer parents who see it as a primer on the risks their kids are willing to take for love and sex, on the other hand, may wish to bring Xanax.
We meet Megan (Tipton), dressed down and moping in sweats and big socks — indie shorthand for let-down-by-lifers who have no idea what to do with their Saturday nights, let alone the rest of their days. Megan’s been burned and she’s skittish, but, urged on by her roommate (a lively Jessica Szohr), Megan takes to the Web for a no-strings hookup. No wading through leering undesirables here: Within moments she’s trading nervously chipper banter and cute laptop visuals with Alec (Teller), a similarly uncommitted young fellow who appears to want as little as Megan does from the encounter. Right.
Pausing only to demand a video tour of his apartment (serial-killer test), Megan hightails it from the East Village to Brooklyn around midnight. Cut, rather coyly, to the morning after, when the two discover that (a) they can’t stand one another, and (b) they’re trapped in Alec’s apartment by a massive snowstorm. The fur that flies thereafter isn’t exactly Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, but there’s some alternately sharp and slightly grating writing here; some of the cutesy argot — “sexiled,” “Benjamin Buttoning” — seems more suited to tweens than to putative adults going on for 30.
That may be the point, but there’s still a lot of lavatorial filler and hard-working situation comedy to get through before things get interesting with a watershed moment in which Megan and Max drop the sloganeering banter and get into some straight talk. It stands to reason that an honest dialogue put together by two young men would take building a better orgasm as its first, graphic order of business, but at least the carnal instruction is equal-opportunity.
A little late in the day, “Two Night Stand” turns into an absorbing dramedy about two bruised souls mustering the nerve to open themselves up to love again. There’s an 11th-hour turn of the screw, of course. But among its other modest virtues, the movie doesn’t offer Megan and Alec as a glam couple with swank uptown jobs, or default to blaming dysfunctional parents or demonic former lovers for their current miseries.
Tipton is sweet and has lovely green eyes. But indie film guys, I beg you, enough with the manic pixie dream girls already. Teller is an intelligent young actor who’s been worth watching since his affecting turn opposite Nicole Kidman in “Rabbit Hole.” As Alec, though, he seems not quite in control of the residual smirkiness that he turned to superb advantage as a cocky young alcoholic in “The Spectacular Now.” The switch he makes here, from practiced charmer to earnest suitor, is a touch too fast, and a little too glib.
Yet all is forgiven when we come to Teller’s forlorn delivery of a line that deserves a movie all to itself. “Two Night Stand’s” strength lies in the doubts and the ambivalence it expresses about the way we love now. Internet dating, Alec admits once his guard is down, is “a bunch of people sitting around in the dark, texting.”