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.
Copyright © 1999 Greg King