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Originally published Friday, September 12, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

"In Search of a Midnight Kiss": A fantasy romance rooted in sweet reality

"In Search of a Midnight Kiss": A lonely, depressed young man (Scoot McNairy) is desperate to share a New Year's Eve midnight kiss, so he turns to Craigslist for a hookup. What starts as a casual encounter turns into a mystical, romantic and genuinely funny human story about real life and real people.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

"In Search of a Midnight Kiss," with Scoot McNairy, Sara Simmonds, Brian McGuire, Katy Luong. Written and directed by Alex Holdridge. 97 minutes. Not rated; suitable for mature audiences. Varsity.

Craigslist has become so deeply rooted in the social fabric of community and relationships that it's not even product placement when it pops up as a movie's plot point. We understand implicitly that it's the place to go when you need a job, a couch or, in the case of "In Search of a Midnight Kiss," a little companionship.

The sweet, sensitive soul of this outright original delight is Wilson (Scoot McNairy), a disheveled, depressive and dreadfully insecure lonely heart. Fresh from a heartbreaking split with a longtime girlfriend, he's a bewildered transplant to the impersonality of Los Angeles and obsessed about finding someone — anyone — in this cruel town. "L.A. is where love comes to die," is one of his more upbeat quips. It doesn't help that it's New Year's Eve and he's fixated on the notion that a kiss at midnight is the measure of worth that means the difference between an inkling of faith and suicidal despair.

Wilson lives in a grubby apartment with his pal Jacob (Brian McGuire). The apartment is also home to Jacob's sexy girlfriend Min (Katy Luong), and Wilson can't stop wishing himself into the kind of lifestyle they share. His desperation reaches a tipping point when he Photoshops Min's head onto an anonymous naked body.

Jacob and Min — with teasing, touching understanding — become more than a little concerned for his need. With the afternoon of Dec. 31 quickly waning, Jacob doesn't think twice about picking up his laptop to place a Craigslist posting for a midnight hookup that will save Wilson's sanity.

The savior comes in the form of a mixed blessing named Vivian (Sara Simmonds). As the camera moves nervously around them, Vivian keeps Wilson at arms length. Vivian has a lot of her own baggage — some of it a little too far removed from the authenticity the movie mostly keeps in balance. But the connection she establishes with Wilson flows naturally and is infused with the unpredictability of reality.

Writer/director Alex Holdridge maintains the intrigue of Wilson and Vivian's dance through a combination of naturalistic dialogue and a magical-realist style. Their meandering afternoon and evening around a crumbling downtown L.A. couples character and place much the same way Woody Allen's "Manhattan" did. That resonance continues in Holdridge's use of elegant black-and-white photography to give the story an air of mystical reverie, even as it shadows real people living real life.

Ted Fry: tedfry@hotmail.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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