Midnight at the Paradise: The False Dreams of Paradise

When the clock strikes Midnight on romance, can the relationship survive?

Directed by Vanessa Matsui, Midnight at the Paradise tells the story of Alex and Anthea (Alan Hawco and Emma Ferreira), a couple that’s only a week away from their wedding. As Alex attempts to leave for a weekend of work in Toronto, Anthea decides that she’ll join him. However, what Anthea doesn’t realize is that Alex is attempting to reconnect with his old flame, Iris (Liane Balaban). Having never left Toronto, Iris is now married to Geoff (Ryan Allen) and spends her nights caring for her ailing father, Max (Kenneth Welsh). However, when Iris’ mother, Charmaine (Kate Trotter) offers to take care of Max for the night so the two can have a proper date, their plans are derailed when they encounter Alex and Anthea, reigniting old feelings and digging up old pain.

For the most part, Matsui keeps the film’s direction simple. Glances across the room, soft lighting and simple framing keep the emphasis firmly on her cast as opposed to any fancy filmmaking techniques. Frankly, the decision serves the film well. In a story such as this, the most important element to its success remains its chemistry. Romantic dramas live and die based on the believability of the connections of its characters. 

Thankfully, Midnight succeeds in this area with some incredible sexual tension between its cast. When featured together, every combination of couple feels authentic to each other and to the moment. However, it’s the attraction that exists between Balaban and Hawco that keeps the film moving. As (arguably) the film’s central couple, there’s an enthusiastic magnetism between the two that sparks whenever they’re together. Although both characters exist in other relationships, the connection between the two remains undeniable. (Furthermore, as the divorced parents, Welsh and Trotter also have their own simmering fire between them as well.)

What’s intriguing about Midnight is its recognition of the scars that relationships can leave behind. For each chapter of romance, Midnight highlights the various ways that our past can affect our present (and future). Alex and Anthea are grappling with uncertainty of commitment. Iris and Geoff are dealing with the tensions that develop when marital connection is interrupted by caring for parents and general work/life balance. And, of course, after years apart, Max and Charmaine are struggling to remember what brought them together in the first place. Within each couple, there’s undeniable chemistry yet there’s also secrets and brokenness that drive them apart. 

At the same time, while it explores the realities of relationships, Midnight uses the theatre as a place that inspires dreams. As Iris fights to keep Max’s precious theatre alive, the film wrestles with our need to see our lives reflected on the big screen. This love of film emphasizes our desire to be swept up in fantasy. However, the film also isn’t entirely sure if these sorts of unreal expectations are healthy. At times, Midnight yearns for our lives were more like the movies. After all, these stories begin with star-crossed (or ill-fated) lovers but inspire a passion for beauty and romance within us in our own lives But, at others, it refuses to buy into the falsehoods that cinematic romance creates. (“Just let a film be a film,” we’re told.) As such, Midnight understands that the realities of love contain a blend of both the star-crossed passion we crave and the flawed (or tenuous) path to which we commit ourselves.

In the end, Midnight points out that no relationship is strictly paradise. While our hearts dream of perfect relationships, every couple must navigate the struggles (and distractions) that are brought before them. But whether or not they are willing to fight through them as a couple is an entirely different question.

Midnight at the Paradise is available at the Paradise Theatres in Toronto on Friday, April 21st, 2023.

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