“Unrequited love. Isn’t that what most memorable movies are about?”
No one makes it through their 30s without re-assessing all of the important life choices they made in their younger years. Whom they married, the career they’ve built, having children, the relationship with their parents; all these come up for review at some point in that space where the trappings of adulthood have finally settled in, mentally and physically. The characters of Vanessa Matsui’s debut feature Midnight at the Paradise find themselves at these crossroads when fate pushes two couples together for a night of reckoning, ecstasy, and heartbreak.
Past-his-prime punk rocker Alex (Republic of Doyle’s Allan Hawco) has arrived in Toronto to check out a new band. Or at least that’s what he’s told his girlfriend Anthea (Emma Ferreira) who has tagged along for the trip at the last minute. His actual mission is to reconnect with old flame Iris (Liane Balaban) at a fundraiser screening of Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless for The Paradise theatre, a beloved neighbourhood picture palace in the path of gentrification.
The meeting is further complicated by the last-minute attendance of Iris’ ER doctor husband Geoff (Ryan Allen) who has handed attending duties of her ailing film critic father Max (Kenneth Welsh) to her estranged mother Charmaine (Kate Trotter) whom Max cheated on long ago. The date intended to reignite the spark between lost lovers morphs into an awkward foursome where all the participants are forced to reckon with what makes a long-term relationship with another person sustainable and worthwhile, or even if it’s even worth having.
If the opening paragraph didn’t make it apparent, this movie hits someone like me harder than it would have ten or even five years ago. There’s a certain clarity in hindsight for roads not taken and loved ones who got away, yet even that clarity can be obstructed by the ever-intrusive heat of the moment.
Iris has grown up and taken on responsibilities whereas Alex never really has. She seriously questions if she should have run off with him years ago while he has never truly stopped loving her. The electricity between the two is palpable in every scene together and this is easily picked up by their significant others who find kindred spirits in each other or at the very least drinking buddies for the night.
The film draws its staying power from a striking script and a stellar cast with nary a weak link. Hawco and Balaban in particular work overtime to convince you that you’re spying on actual people as opposed to scripted performances. A salute to the late Kenneth Welsh is also in order, especially given his character’s assisted death storyline.
Midnight in Paradise scores as a strong character piece and a reflection of how our most consequential choices seem to be made in the first third of our lives. Passions rarely fade but responsibilities mount and tough choices must be made to reconcile the two. It’s also a reminder that I need to dust off my Criterion copy of Breathless again.
Midnight at the Paradise screens virtually as part of the online Whistler Film Festival until Jan 2