There aren’t many films that give me a stomach ache. (Ravenous gave me one, though not from laughing.) But 20 Dates, by first-time writer/director/actor Myles Berkowitz, made me howl. I haven’t laughed so much at a movie in ages.
It’s not a great film, and the teenager who accompanied me didn’t think it was all that funny. But the Twenty-Somethings to whom this movie is pitched were in hysterics. It’s about dating. The premise is that Myles wants to fall in love and he also wants to make a movie. So he has this brainstorm: he’ll go on twenty different dates with twenty different girls, and take his video cameraman and sound man along too.
On one of these dates he is bound to fall in love, so he’ll also be making a real life documentary about love and its genesis. Amazingly enough his agent, Richard, whom you want to strangle, finds Myles a backer, Elie, the sleaziest financial guy since General Noriega. Elie’s artistic vision is somewhat different than Myles’: "Tits and ass, Myles. If I don’t quadruple my money I’ll rip off both your legs." Elie kicks in $60,000 and we’re off.
Don’t look for more because there isn’t any more. This is a film about dating in L.A., but it’s not a love story. You won’t like Myles. He’s like your Cousin Larry, a nebbish, and an obnoxious one at best. How beautiful Elizabeth falls for him is a mystery we can’t solve. But they fall for Clint Eastwood, they fall for Woody Allen, so why not Myles Berkowitz? If you’re the director, these things happen.
Along the way there are many sight gags. The girls are not happy, to put it mildly, to have a cameraman pointing a video camera in their face from across the linguini, so Myles is forced to hide the camera. Several dates then sue him for infringement of privacy. Date Two, Stephanie, runs to the ladies room and never comes back. Date Three, Shalimar, orders a three pound lobster but Myles only has enough money for a two pound lobster. After a short while Myles cannot find anyone who will go out with him.
But Elie turns up the pressure: he wants results. Myles needs to meet more girls, so he can film more dates. He goes bungee jumping. He hangs out in the low fat aisle at the supermarket. He brings his friend’s cute little boy to Venice Beach. He even tries going to an AA meeting ("Will I go out with you? I’ll have to ask my sponsor…"). In between he gets sage advice from Robert McKee, who gives screenwriting classes in L.A. and seems to know everything there is to know about on-screen life and love ("It’s not about self-sacrifice anymore, Myles, like it was in Casablanca. Now it’s just longing. Look at Sleepless in Seattle.").
And of course Myles does find the love of his life, and mine too. Her name is only given as Elizabeth, but ooo la la. Which reminds me Myles has this thing about the French, feminist ballet, and The English Patient. How bad can he be?
Go see 20 Dates, but don’t expect Rashomon. If you’ve ever been in show business, Elie’s character alone is worth the price of admission. In the end you won’t like Myles Berkowitz any better, but you’ll feel there may still be romance in the world. If gorgeous Elizabeth can fall for your cousin Larry, anything’s possible.