In Search of a Midnight Kiss: Heirloom Tomato Salad with Goat Cheese Recipe

Year Released: 2008
Directed by: Alex Holdridge
Starring: Scoot McNairy, Sara Simmonds, Brian McGuire, Kathleen Luong, Twink Caplan, Robert Murphy
(Not Rated, 98 min.)

"People are like onions. You uncover them a layer at a time, and sometimes you cry." Carl Sandburg

At once contemporary and classic, cynical and sentimental, trashy and tender, this indie film with some serious Austin roots wowed the audiences at its premiere at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival, but be warned. This isn’t your father’s Oldsmobile, and you are in for a bumpy ride if that is what you expect.

The story is an eloquently simple one. Wilson (Scoot McNairy) is a recent transplant to Los Angeles, where he hopes to make it big as a screenwriter. Results have not yet been spectacular. He has flipped and totaled his car on the drive there from Texas, his girl has dumped him, and he is reduced to sharing a very small apartment with his childhood best friend Jacob and his girlfriend. It is New Year’s Eve, and he wallows in the muck of his own depression, the lonely daily tedium rising to a crescendo as the witching hour of midnight approaches.

Jacob (Brian Matthew McGuire), offers a solution sadly not available to lonely hearts until recently – Craigslist, where Wilson posts simply, ”Misanthrope seeks misanthrope.” A woman responds and agrees to meet Wilson for an “interview” at a local café, but cautions that she has scheduled three other applicants as well. She is an attractive blond in dark sunglasses named Vivian (Sara Simmonds), who inhales cigarettes and exhales insults with appalling regularity. Somehow she decides to give Wilson a second interview, deciding at sunset – hat tip to Richard Linklater’sBefore Sunrise and Before Sunset - if she’ll be his evening date.

In his screenplay Alex Holdridge embraces some traditions and stands a few others on their heads. One is the so called fourth wall, a dramatic convention that lets the audience glimpse the action through an invisible wall, which in a few instances here, one might wish were opaque. Let’s put it this way, you will never again think about photo shop in the same way due to the calculated, outrageous opening and the ensuing 20 minutes or so. 

Thrown aside are any notions of making the two would be lovers likeable or sympathetic. In fact, both are initially repellent – to each other as well as the audience. Wilson, grungy and self-absorbed, and Vivian, offensive and disagreeable. Before long, however, the dynamics change, signaled subtly.

Wilson rejects the three-day beard and affected grunge trappings his roomies apply like kids dressing up their pet dog. When he emerges clean-shaven and in simple jeans and jacket some of his assumed melancholy is gone as well.

Sara drops her pose with her dark glasses when Wilson take her on the deserted stage of a once grand theater, and she is awed by its beauty as well as saddened by its neglect.

In the space of 24 hours – a nice Greek unity adhered to – the masks slip and the naked humanity of these two “misanthropes” emerges, wounded, vulnerable, and yes, even tender.

Almost as intriguing as the film itself is the story behind it. Much of Wilson’s story actually happened to screenwriter/director Alex Holdridge. He did indeed flip his car on the way to L.A. (He actually took the photo of the overturned vehicle that appears in the film, the writer in him collecting images to use for later like a strange inversion of a hope chest.)

The filming has a lot to do with a couple of events happening coincidentally. One was the phone call from cinematographer Robert Murphy, a longtime friend and collaborator from their University of Texas days together. He had a new HD camera and plans to come o L.A. for a week, so they decided to shoot something. Another was the win of underdog UT in the famed 2006 Rose Bowl triumph over USC. Like their beloved Longhorns, these Texas boys would show L.A. a thing or two.

But it all had to be filmed guerilla style, without permits, their recording devices shoved into pockets and coat linings. Holdridge wrote the script in two weeks and got his film friends to drop everything to play the parts. The closing budget was $12,000.

Robert, whose black and white images of L.A., verite style, show both the beauty and the decay of the “grimy faded grandeur of Downtown L.A.,” also doubled as Viviane’s obnoxious redneck former boyfriend. Producer Seth Caplan’s mother Twink, threw herself into the role of Wilson’s mother, not seeing the script until she showed up on the set. Further evidence of loving family connections and talent, Robert’s brother Billy, covered for the Scorpions in a rising rendition of Wind of Change that closed the film on a final note of triumph and hope.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

Wilson drains his anemic bank account to treat Vivian to a memorable New Year’s Eve dinner. She suggests a favorite Italian restaurant where they eat and laugh almost like a normal (rather than neurotic) couple. Is it the great Italian food or the bottle of wine that creates this momentary happiness and its afterglow? In my opinion, it’s hard to stay gloomy with that potent combination.

Why not treat yourself to a very simple yet delicious Italian salad – a great way to use up all those homegrown tomatoes that are ripening right now. Here’s what the cook, Deborah, says about it.

“I debated whether to add this into my recipe collection as it is so simple that it is difficult to describe it as a recipe. This is another dish that typifies what Italian cuisine is all about as it is very simple with just a few ingredients, but every ingredient needs to be the best. I normally do not buy heirloom tomatoes as they are too expensive when local grown tomatoes are readily available and much more affordable, but I was shopping in Whole Foods and spotted a clerk stocking a counter with gorgeous big heirloom tomatoes of every color. I could not resist buying a couple of these wonderful tomatoes for lunch and used them to make this attractive salad.

When you have really flavorful, ripe tomatoes, you do not need a lot of extra ingredients, but the addition of a few well chosen items will turn these tomatoes into a salad that is memorable. I simply sliced the tomatoes and placed them on some baby mixed greens, and added some thinly sliced red onions. To dress this salad I used my special extra virgin olive oil, a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar, cracked black pepper and coarse sea salt. To serve I tear some fresh herbs on top of the tomatoes as well as some crumbled goat cheese. Delicious!”

Deborah Mele

Heirloom Tomato Salad with Goat Cheese 

  • 4 Large Heirloom Tomatoes
  • Mixed Baby Greens
  • 1 Small Red Onion, Peeled And Thinly Sliced
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Aged Balsamic Vinegar
  • Coarse Sea Salt
  • Cracked Black Pepper
  • Fresh Herbs Of Choice (Parsley & Basil Work Well)
  • Small Log Of Goat Cheese

Place a handful of the mixed greens on four separate plates. Slice the tomatoes, and divide them between the four plates arranging them attractively on the greens with the sliced onions. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar on top of the tomatoes and then sprinkle with sea salt and cracked pepper. Tear the fresh herbs into small pieces and scatter over the tomatoes. Crumble some goat cheese onto each plate and serve.

Buon Appetito!
Deborah Mele 2008

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