20 Dates

(Myles Berkowitz, USA, 1999)


Back in the mid '80s, Ross McElwee made a charming, memorable film called Sherman's March (1985) which documented – among other things – the film-maker's fumbling search for a soul-mate.

One of the reasons this personal diary worked so well is that McElwee – unlike Robert Gibson in Video Fool For Love (1996) or Henry Jaglom in Someone to Love (1987) – did not whine vacuously on-camera about the loss of romance in the modern world.

Myles Berkowitz does plenty of whining in his debut feature, 20 Dates. What's worse, he has the temerity to present himself as "a typical guy". Most scarily of all, when Myles requires advice from an oracle, he fronts up to Robert McKee, crusty author of a popular how-to-write-a-screenplay manual (later fictionalized – and immortalized – in Adaptation [2002]). Jaglom, at least, had the good sense to enlist Orson Welles for this role.

20 Dates presents itself as a spontaneous, micro-budget, documentary record of Berkowitz's travails amidst the Los Angeles singles set. This self-styled auteur-star is certainly candid: he figures that, if the adventure works, he will win a girl and a career simultaneously.

Miraculously, Myles meets his dream girl, Elisabeth, long before the 20th date. Why doesn't he just stop there? No, he explains, his evil, bullish producer, Elie Samaha, demands that he keep dating actresses and supermodels. Elisabeth is understandably pissed off. Myles is at the crossroads: as McKee boorishly explains, he must sacrifice either the career plan or the girl, just like in the great Hollywood classics.

Who's kidding whom here? I kept expecting the revelation, as in Orson Welles' great F For Fake (1973), that everything on screen is a put-on, a staged fiction, mockumentary. But Berkowitz maintains the absurd pretence that this is real life – and to do so, he must invent grotesque contrivances at every turn (such as making out that Samaha is a crook rather than a professional film producer).

This is an empty, banal, witless film. What sinks it from the word go is Berkowitz's shallowness: he has nothing to say about love beyond the standard, stereotypical clichés.

© Adrian Martin September 1999

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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