Reviewed by GREG KING.
Director: Myles Berkowitz
Stars: Myles Berkowitz, Robert McKee, Richard Arlook, Tia Carrere.
In 1996, Aussie film maker Robert Gibson exposed his personal life and failed relationships to excruciatingly painful scrutiny with his video diary Video Fool For Love. First time film maker Myles Berkowitz attempts something similar, albeit it on a grander and less intimate scale, in this mock documentary recording his often embarrassing search for true love. Thankfully, 20 Dates lacks the self- indulgent and voyeuristic excesses of Gibson’s film, although it, too, has its flaws.
In 20 Dates Berkowitz deliberately offers a contrast to the glamorous version of love as depicted in numerous light weight Hollywood romantic comedies. Combining the two greatest disasters of his life thus far – his professional career and his personal life – the ambitious Berkowitz sets out to make a low budget film about being single and dateless in contemporary Los Angeles. We’ve seen this sort of stuff before – the central premise of being desperate and dateless in LA also sounds vaguely similar to the broad plot of Steve Martin’s LA Story.
Berkowitz optimistically hopes to find the perfect woman within 20 dates. Berkowitz has his own camera man and sound recorder follow him on a series of dates, documenting his sometimes clumsy journey through this minefield of modern dating rituals. Of course, the intrusive camera crew is not exactly conducive to creating intimate moments, but it does make for some awkward and hilarious experiences. Not every one appreciates being the subject of Berkowitz’s film, and a succession of law suits and restraining orders quickly follow. Complications develop when he meets Elisabeth, a sales clerk and interior decorating student. A genuine relationship develops between the pair, which is threatened by Berkowitz’s need to date other women in order to finish his film.
This mock documentary also takes a swipe at the Hollywood studio system, as Myles desperately tries to remain true to his project and not compromise his artistic vision. He becomes involved with a dodgy and volatile producer and financier who tries to convince him to inject more sex into his film. Noted lecturer and film theorist Robert McKee also advises Myles to turn his film into the ultimate classic love story, full of longing and romantic possibility.
Some moments work wonderfully in this occasionally hilarious film, but other moments misfire badly. Technically, the film is cleverly assembled, as Berkowitz uses a variety of film stock and formats to add to the rawness and documentary-like realism. It is sometimes easy to believe that 20 Dates is cinema verite at its best. But the rigid structure of the film ultimately suggests that Berkowitz’s approach is somewhat less spontaneous and unscripted than he would have us believe.
Berkowitz comes across as a poor man’s, west coast Woody Allen, albeit without the thoroughly cynical view on relationships, the neurosis, or the snappy string of clever one-liners. Michael Moore (Roger And Me, etc) does this sort of smart arse, acerbic documentary much better. 20 Dates works up to a point, but then the whole artifice becomes a little tedious.