Mexico often gets a bad rap for its stereotypical depiction of the country synonymous with crime, drugs, and violence, normally seen in many movies. This includes everything from ‘The Wild Bunch’ (1969) to ‘El Mariachi’ (1992), ‘Traffic’ (2000), and ‘Sicario’ (2015). But writer-director Jonah Feingold breaks that stereotype in his latest romantic comedy ‘At Midnight,’ which made its straight-to-streaming debut on Paramount+ starting today. Of course, he’s not the first one to do so with past Mexico-set romantic comedies such as ‘Ladies’ Night’ (2003), ‘Everybody Loves Somebody’ (2017), and last year’s ‘Don’t Blame Karma!’ being some of the examples here.
Still, it was a refreshing change of pace to see Mexico becomes the major rom-com destination in ‘At Midnight’ instead of the same old locations, namely Paris and New York. The film follows Alejandro (Diego Boneta), a junior hotel manager who always dream of opening his own boutique hotel someday. But he’s too afraid to step out of his comfort zone and not to mention fear of failure. Then came Sophie Wilder (Monica Barbaro), a rising movie star, who arrived in town to shoot some scenes for her superhero film franchise ‘Super Society 3’.
She has been playing second fiddle to her famous co-star and boyfriend, Adam Clark (Anders Holm), and is often being addressed as ‘Firephina’ (referring to her Super Society character) or ‘Adam Clark’s girlfriend.’ Despite their five-year relationship, Sophie catches Adam making out with another girl while on the set. She finally had enough and decided to dump him, but she is still obligated to complete her remaining scenes for ‘Super Society 3’.
After the production moves to Mexico, where they happen to stay at Alejandro’s hotel, Alejandro is tasked to take care of Sophie and Adam. As with the usual rom-com formula, Alejandro and Sophie don’t get along at first, as the former labeled her as a prima donna after an embarrassingly awkward encounter in her hotel room. But of course, they eventually warm up to each other when Sophie is starving and wants to order something from a late-night menu. After a brief night of flirting and, a subsequent scene where Sophie is looking forward to Alejandro showing her around the town, they enjoy their lovely time together talking and dancing at midnight, hence the title.
Among the crucial elements in any rom-com is the onscreen chemistry between the two leads. ‘At Midnight’ gets that right with Monica Barbaro and Diego Boneta teaming up as a couple. Barbaro, fresh off of last year’s mega-hit ‘Top Gun: Maverick’, proves that she has what it takes to lead a movie. She radiates enough charm and has all the necessary magnetic screen presence channeling into her role. Whether or not she is deserved to earn the new ‘queen of rom-com’ after the likes of Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan, and to a certain extent, Jennifer Lopez is too early to tell for now.
But judging from this movie, Barbaro gets off to an early positive start. She pairs well with Boneta, who is just as charming as Alejandro. It was also nice to see Boneta’s character isn’t confined to speaking entirely English the whole time, as the story also incorporates enough scenes of him in Spanish dialogues.
And while I enjoy seeing them together, the same cannot be said for Jonah Feingold’s shopworn screenplay that he co-wrote alongside Maria Hinojos and Giovanni M. Porta. The Mexico setting may have been refreshingly different, but all the love-hate and meet-cute scenarios devoid of originality, let alone something that at least Feingold can do, is a sense of nuance. ‘At Midnight’ feels manufactured from the way Feingold chose to approach his rom-com. He may seem like he’s trying to evoke the good old-fashioned romantic comedies of the past, namely Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn-starred 1953 black-and-white classic ‘Roman Holiday’ and even (shamelessly) borrows ‘Notting Hill,’ which happens to share more or less the same setups. I love both of the aforementioned movies but a mere nostalgia factor isn’t simply enough to overcome the sheer banality of the plot.
Except for some of the timely, spot-on humor, including a part where one of the characters references Martin Scorsese’s dissent about superhero movies being ‘not cinema’. But such moments only occur few and far between.
This turns out to be a pity because Barbaro is particularly great in her role. It’s just that she deserves better than what she gets in ‘At Midnight’. Apart from the two leads, the supporting cast, including Anders Holm and Catherine Cohen, deliver respectively decent performances as Sophie’s no-good celebrity boyfriend and unemployed best friend, Rachel. Then, there’s Whitney Cummings, who made good use of her limited screen time as Sophie’s manipulative agent, Margot.