LILA SAYS IS a recently published memoir whose author, known only as "Chimo," is the topic of dispute among French literati. Is the author who he claims to be—a Moroccan teen whose French is the counterpart to our Ebonics—or is he a deconstructionist writing a parody? The debate implies that devious imitation has become a high art form; it also hints at the kind of audience we've become: the kind that is aware of the tendency of fiction to seep into even the most honest nonfiction narratives.
Similarly, you can never be quite sure if Myles Berkowitz's debut film, 20 Dates, which won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival, is sincere or parodic. Explaining his artistic and personal intentions throughout the film, Berkowitz presents himself as someone on a quest for true love. Not scripted cinematic love, ࠬa Sleepless in Seattle (from which he shows many clips), but real love, which is unpredictable, clumsy, and at times embarrassing. 20 Dates is the story of Berkowitz's quest: He films his search for a girlfriend, taking his camera and two-man crew with him on dates with 20 different women.
directed by Myles Berkowitz
opens March 12 at the Broadway Market
The presence of a camera, of course, immediately makes you question how genuine the dates are. But what saves the movie from degenerating in-to an MTV Real World for the thirtysomething set is the director's percolating wit, which is often Woody Allen-esque in its self-mockery, and the movie's sharp editing and narrative framework. Despite his declarations that he's out to capture "real life," Berkowitz ends up telling a story; and his editing style assures that the story is mediated to his advantage.
We follow the director/star as he goes on one flop of a date after another. The embarrassing moments are funny enough, but because of the precise cuts and Berkowitz's voice-over narrative, the gaffes seem to happen on cue. The bad dates are almost a little too perfect in their badness, giving the feeling that there was a set-up.
Likewise, the challenges of making 20 Dates seem a little too perfect. Weaving shots of his dates with explications of the filmmaking industry, Berkowitz forges a parallel between the difficulties of making his first film and the difficulties of finding true love. From the start, the director is up against daunting odds, with an inexperienced crew, lack of money, and a sleazy producer who demands sex appeal in the form of Tia Carrere. (Carrere, by the way, was an executive producer of the movie.) At times, Berkowitz sounds as if he's giving a crash course to Meg Ryan fans on the realities of indie filmmaking.
But his movie never falters. Sure, it is characterized by shaky, dizzying camerawork, but that too—like the date who leaves him because he's only got $50 for dinner—only serves to enhance Berkowitz's self-portrait as an underdog.
The genius of 20 Dates is that for a cheap indie flick, its end product is as refined and orchestrated as any traditional Hollywood romance. At times, you even wonder if it might not really be a big studio production that's taken you for a ride all along.