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Review: The Remarkably Unremarkable ‘At Midnight’

Review: The Remarkably Unremarkable ‘At Midnight’

I’ll confess: At Midnight is the type of movie I want to love more. I want to take all the elements I appreciate about it and try to add them up to get a film I can recommend more, a film that I can say I legitimately enjoyed rather than, “I enjoyed what they tried to do,” where I can say, “It’s great!” rather than, “It’s perfectly inoffensive.”

I don’t think cinema is hurt by this film existing, but I don’t think it’s helped, either. This movie is the equivalent of airplane snacks: they’ll get you through, but they’re not at all substantial. 

The actors are aspirationally beautiful, a requisite for the chocolate-box romance genre. The acting itself is serviceable. Stars Monica Barbaro, of Top Gun: Maverick fame, and Diego Boneta bring enough charm that the movie feels like a throwback to Hollywood’s Golden Age — big stakes, grand locales, love that seems star-crossed until the swelling music portends the inevitable happy ending. That sort of thing. Heck, at a certain point the lead characters even sit back and enjoy an old black-and-white Paramount film in an emptied theater. 

The story goes like this: Sophie Wilder (Barbaro) is a Hollywood starlet who, along with her boyfriend and co-lead Adam Clark (Anders Holm), is the face of the Super Society film series. Before Sophie and Adam can film the final part of the trilogy, however, Sophie discovers Adam cheating on her with a production assistant on set. “It’s okay. I’m in character,” he says. 

This of course leads to the couple breaking up, but, since their fandom apparently depends on the idea that they, like their characters Firephina and Dr. Thunder, are in love, their publicist (Whitney Cummings) advises them not to go public with the news until production is wrapped. 

The movie then becomes about how Sophie will handle being on set with her obnoxious ex. Luckily for Sophie, Avengers knockoff Super Society is filming in Mexico and the cast and crew are staying at a gorgeous, charming seaside resort that employs the equally gorgeous and charming Alejandro (Boneta). 

Alejandro is the consummate romantic lead in that he is hunky, sensitive, and a little bit of a playboy, but not so much that we’re meant to root against him. He has anonymous sex with tourists, sure, but he also makes them breakfast the morning after. Alejandro’s main issue is that he is the manager of the hotel’s Mexico branch but he wants a promotion to New York. He went to school at Cornell and wants to return to the area (I suspect this Ivy League backstory is also an attempt to explain Boneta’s impeccable English, but I don’t think it’s needed). Beyond this, he often finds himself unlucky in love, hence the nameless hookups that are “less complicated” than a long-term relationship. His main love at the moment is for being a hotelier and chef. He hopes to eventually open his own boutique bed-and-breakfast that intimately caters to a smaller crowd. 

This all, of course, changes when he meets Sophie. Now, life is about meeting with the starlet and getting her to know his world. Now, life is about helping her to love again and find her true voice. And all this is helped by their secret meetings that occur…at midnight.

If this all sounds fine to you, that’s because it is. Fine. Just fine. 

I mentioned earlier about the film’s strengths that I wanted to love more. One of them is that this is a wonderfully bilingual film. Instead of annoyingly having Mexican characters speak in accented English, they speak Spanish with the film providing captions below. I commend director and co-writer Jonah Feingold for this choice. It’s time popular American productions stopped condescending to their audiences in assuming we don’t have the patience to read a sentence or two. 

Something else I loved is that the film’s comedic actors bring a needed levity to the subject matter. Anders Holm is best remembered as his eponymous character in Comedy Central’s Workaholics, and he brings that same doofily self-assured sensibility to this production. See the above “I’m in character” quote for proof that he has the movie’s best lines and delivery. Whitney Cummings likewise has some funny lines, but, somehow, she feels more censored. The film has the “m-f-” word in it at least once, so I don’t know why Cummings wasn’t allowed to be her raunchier self. 

Finally, I appreciated the film having a queer presence, with gay characters played by Casey Thomas Brown and Fernando Carsa having, yes, supporting roles, but roles that allowed them to be more varied than a series of accessorized Gay Best Friends

And yet, despite these positives, the flat script, weird editing, and cloying music work in concert to make what could have been a pretty fun film into disposable Valentine’s Day fodder. The biggest problem with At Midnight is that it harkens to the best of Old Hollywood’s romantic films without many of the qualities that made those early pictures so memorable. 

I don’t think anyone will say this movie tanked Barbaro’s burgeoning career or set Boneta back a step. I think, what might actually be worse, is that no one will remember this movie ever existed.

At Midnight premieres Friday, February 10, 2023, on Paramount+

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