Review: Rom-com cliché meets superhero culture clash in ‘At Midnight’
Everything about At Midnight is dipped in cliché up to the neck, and marinaded overnight. Co-written by Jonah Feingold, alongside fellow collaborators Maria Hinojos and Giovanni M. Porta, it stars Monica Barbaro (Top Gun: Maverick) as movie star Sophie Wilder.
Trapped in a manufactured relationship with screen partner Adam Clark (Anders Holm), together they play fictional franchise favorites in Super Society. On location in Mexico to film the third installment, they have a falling out and Sophie decides to break it off. The only problem is that this franchise relies on their public image remaining intact for publicity purposes.
What follows is a by the numbers rom-com, held together by charm, invention, and some genuine chemistry between Sophie and Alejandro (Diego Boneta), which begins when he walks in on her naked. With an instant dislike disappearing in favor of attraction as the film continues, audiences will soon get drawn into this cliched love-fest, as star and assistant hotel manager gradually fall in love.
However, what really makes this Paramount Plus original work so well comes down to an exceptional ensemble cast. Rachel (Catherine Cohen) is Sophie’s best friend, who makes it her personal mission to end that toxic relationship and find a suitable replacement. With buckets of kooky charisma and just the right amount of off-hand innuendo, Catherine Cohen does a great job of stealing numerous scenes.
Likewise, Casey Thomas Brown struts his camp and comedic stuff as Chris, personal manager to Sophie and intermediary between her and manipulative LA agent Margo (Whitney Cummings). With self-interest pulsing at the heart of her characterization, since she professionally represents both parties, comedic conflict is rife and dramatic tension dialed up throughout.
At Midnight is also interesting as much of the dialogue is delivered in Spanish with subtitles. This fundamental choice of language requires audiences to engage more than they might otherwise, had the film makers stuck to English. It inherently lends the film a sense of authenticity and surprisingly means that jokes land more consistently, since they rely as much on facial reaction as they do on comic timing.
Boneta (Terminator: Dark Fate) switches seamlessly between languages, while Barbaro follows suit, making their connection somehow more grounded, which turn adds a certain degree of reality to this cliché heavy rom-com. However, during their inevitable meet cute scenario, which happens early on, late-night snacks, talk of chocolate cake, and some surprising common ground means no such word play is required for intentions to hit home successfully.
Chemistry between the two leads is cranked up to eleven, while Alejandro proves to be the polar opposite of Adam as befits a would-be suitor. When the dates continue and the inevitable montage of relationship progression sees them running lines, getting more comfortable, and spending time away from the hotel – then audiences should know that disaster is not far away.
Despite the clichés and signposted story beats which make At Midnight so obvious, there is no denying that some inspired use of internal monologue, and consistently engaging performances from this cast elevate the premise. There is also something to be said for the sideswipe at superhero movies, which makes certain moments in this film come off like The Boys.
As a preening narcissist Holm excels, making Adam every inch the vacuous film star staple audiences expect. In comparison, Barbaro really uses At Midnight to showcase her inherent charisma and solid gold comic timing. In truth, there are not really any weak links, even if the premise itself might have been done to death.
In many ways, this film replicates the rom-com classic Notting Hill, bringing an unknown everyman into the public eye for love. Although the film makers do tone it down a little, since Sophie Wilder is not on par with Anna Scott in terms of fame, this still means that At Midnight is trying to explore something outside of expectations. Likewise, when Alejandro and Sophie visit his family in the latter stages of this movie, something truly impressive happens which ups the dramatic ante.
Faced with a house full of relatives celebrating, which might seem an ideal time for more comedy beats, At Midnight goes another way. In those 15 minutes of footage, audiences will experience family friction, emotional upheaval, and more importantly genuine drama. Tonally, this means that any remnants of rom-com are briefly banished as this film turns up the heat.
However, such things are short lived and thing shift back towards saccharine seamlessly, without once feeling disjointed or distracting from the inevitable endgame. One fact amongst many which makes At Midnight a genuinely surprising slice of original filmmaking.
As movie star Sophie Wilder, Monica Barbaro is effortlessly charming, while Diego Boneta imbues assistant hotel manager Alejandro with equal amounts of charisma. 10 times better than audiences will expect, 'At Midnight' is worth a watch.