American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Let's begin with the actors. Sara Simmonds is a pretty girl, and Scoot McNairy is a good-looking guy. But neither one is improbably attractive. In their story in the film "In Search of a Midnight Kiss," which begins before sunset and ends after sunrise, if you get my drift, they're no Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. If they were, they wouldn't be looking for a date on the afternoon of Dec. 31. Simmonds and McNairy look, act, speak and have thoughts that uncannily resemble life: We believe these could be real people. Yes, Delpy and Hawke are real people, too, but not anyone we'd ever hope to be.
McNairy plays Wilson, who begins New Year's Eve on an unpromising note by masturbating before a Photoshopped computer image of his roommate's girlfriend. He is discovered by the roommate and the girlfriend. Awkward. Min (Katy Luong) claims she's sort of flattered. Jacob (Brian Matthew McGuire) decides Wilson clearly needs a date and suggests a posting on Craigslist. "Misanthrope seeks misanthrope," Wilson bitterly types. He gets a call from Vivian (Sara Simmonds). She is interviewing candidates because she doesn't want to spend the eve with a loser.
In the sidewalk cafe where Wilson's audition begins, Vivian comes across as a furiously smoking, aggressive put-down artist. She claims she's 17, then accuses Wilson of being a mental statutory rapist, then says she's 27. Their conversation goes sort of OK after that, and she gives him until 6 p.m. before she calls in another candidate.
At this point we think their date will be very short and blood may be shed. Then begins a long day's journey through the night, choreographed with delicacy, some humor and some pathos by writer-director Alex Holdridge, and photographed in glorious black and white by Robert Murphy. Taking the subway, they wander around downtown L.A., including the Sheridan Square area haunted by abandoned and shuttered movie palaces. On the stage of one of them, Vivian, who wants to be an actress, dreams of reopening all the theaters and re-creating a golden age. Wilson, who moved to Los Angeles three months ago from Texas, had a screenplay, of course, but it was lost when his laptop was stolen.