Synopsis – At Midnight is a romantic comedy about two people who have made the “safe” choice not to fall in love.
My Take – Romantic comedy is a hard genre to break in to because all too often filmmakers choose to follow a very strict and formulaic pattern, leaving no surprises around what the outcome would be. And well, that is exactly what this latest Paramount+ feature does, too. Right from the very first ten minutes there is no guessing how the story is going to end.
Though, innovation through tweaks to the narrative and characters would’ve changed this one from expected to extraordinary, sadly, director Jonah Feingold (Dating & New York) and his co-writers Maria Hinojos and Giovanni M. Porta aren’t much concerned with reinvention as it is easy to follow a formula set by its cinematic ancestors.
But while it might be easy to dismiss this film as another subpar project dumped to streaming for lack of quality, director Feingold’s sophomore feature at least thrives by keeping things mild and very engaging, never going overboard with its set up. It’s cute, cozy, and appropriately funny.
Acting more as an updated take on Notting Hill (1999) with a dash of other familiar frameworks, the film mainly works because of its leads, Top Gun: Maverick (2022) gorgeous breakout star Monica Barbaro, who shares easy chemistry with the charismatic Diego Boneta.
For those who love a good rom com flick, its pure cinematic comfort food, an easy watch with few consequences, and all the hallmarks of a film prime for re-watches. However, don’t expect anything to surprise you as there’s little in terms of a standout here, providing a run-of-the-mill experience not uncommon in the genre.
The story follows Sophie Wilder (Monica Barbaro), an actress known particularly for starring in a blockbuster superhero franchise. Ironically, though the films are widely popular, they Sophie gets little recognition from anyone but her beloved, beleaguered manager Chris (Casey Thomas Brown) and her sassy, unemployed best friend Rachel (Catherine Cohen). To pile things on she also ends up catching Adam (Anders Holm), her arrogant boyfriend and co-star of five years, cheating.
Making matters is their shared cutthroat agent Margot (Whitney Cummings), who wants Sophie to feign her romance with Adam until the latest installment wraps to avoid scorn in the press. All she just has to make it through a six-week shoot in Mexico.
Meanwhile, at the posh beach hotel where Sophie will be staying in Playa Mujeres, junior manager Alejandro (Diego Boneta) values not having any distractions like relationships, preferring one-night stands to long term affairs. He’s focused on getting into the hotel’s training program in New York City, hoping to eventually open up a boutique hotel of his own.
However, his plans pivot after meeting Sophie. The affable actress gets him to open up his heart to her. And despite their radically different lives, Alejandro and Sophie begin to secretly meet during midnight hours, even with the constant danger of getting caught, something which could jeopardize their career plans and budding romance.
This one is as pure a romantic comedy as you’re going to find these days. It doesn’t try to add anything extra, doesn’t try to throw you for a loop. It’s just good, clean comfort food. The risk here, though, is there is very little room for error. But it clears those benchmarks, making for an easy watch.
Here, director Feingold demonstrates a healthy sense of humor, lightly lampooning vapid Hollywood types and the suffocating, sexist ecosystem that employs them. There’s a decent dose of cynicism to chase its slight satirical bent. The genre’s formulaic beats are, for the most part, hit with a modicum of savvy smarts.
The couple’s shenanigans-laden meet-cute, their ensuing flirtations and last-minute resolution are satisfying enough to overcome a tumultuous end to the second act, which concludes with a ham-handled conflict that splinters the pair. The screenplay does tumble in the final act, inventing a crisis moment for the couple at a birthday family gathering for Alejandro’s sister, with his critical father creating doubt in the twosome, setting up a break-up-to-make-up ending.
But in the end the film doesn’t intend to wow with its writing, trying to provide a smooth ride of feelings and personalities, occasionally returning to the idea of identity, with Sophie fighting to find herself as she remains locked in routine. This is more than enough to power dramatic moods, with both leading characters dealing with big plans, only unsure how to achieve them, finding partnership along the way. The beautiful Mexican setting too plays as another character in the story.
Without a doubt, the best part of the film is Monica Barbaro and Diego Boneta‘s easy, natural chemistry which adds a simmering, sultry sway to the material’s rhythms, gifting it with an uplifting buoyancy. They’re magnetic together, driving our rooting interest for the couple.
Barbaro, as her star continues to rise after the release of last year’s mega hit Top Gun: Maverick. She brings the same kind of charisma to Sophie that she did to Phoenix, a leading lady with a chip on her shoulder, and I wouldn’t be upset if she made that her niche going forward. Boneta’s work too is filled with enough vulnerability and charm, and ends up becoming a delicate, nuanced performance.
In supporting roles, Catherine Cohen leaves a lasting impression in every one of her scenes, while Anders Holm, Fernando Carsa, Casey Thomas Brown, Maya Zapta and Whitney Cummings do their jobs well as well. On the whole, ‘At Midnight’ is a mild run-of-the-mill rom-com anchored by the charm of its leads.
Directed – Jonah Feingold
Starring – Monica Barbaro, Diego Boneta, Anders Holm
Rated – R
Run Time – 100 minutes