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‘At Midnight’ Review: Monica Barbaro-Led Rom-Com Has Less Heart Than a Super Bowl Ad

Diego Boneta, Anders Holm, and Whitney Cummings co-star in this head-scratching rom-com that is more mindless than it needs to be.

Diego Boneta and Monica Barbaro in "At Midnight"

Diego Boneta and Monica Barbaro in “At Midnight”

Paramount Plus

Well, with all projects that soar high, one inevitably crashes back down to Earth.

“Top Gun: Maverick” breakout star Monica Barbaro quietly leads the Paramount+ rom-com “At Midnight,” an updated take on “Notting Hill” with a dash of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” framework. Unfortunately, with the film premiering February 10, audiences would be better off watching star-studded (and better filmed) Super Bowl ads on loop for 105 minutes.

Barbaro plays Sophie Wilder, a rising actress who leads a superhero franchise with her boyfriend of five years, Adam Clark (Anders Holm, who has made a career out of playing shitty boyfriends). When Sophie catches Adam kissing someone else in his trailer, she immediately dumps him and questions how she is going to finish the latest “Super Society” superhero installment. Production moves to Mexico, where Sophie and her posse, including best friend Rachel (Catherine Cohen, doing her best Rachel Sennott impression) and publicist Chris (Casey Thomas Brown), try to figure out how to both pivot Sophie’s career and mend her broken heart.

Cue handsome resort junior manager Alejandro (Diego Boneta), who is notorious for hooking up with hotel guests. Alejandro unprofessionally barges into Sophie’s room right as she’s about to step into the shower and their class-transcending meet cute is off to the races. Too bad it sputters for the next…wait, all of that was within the first five minutes of the movie?!

Yes, the main conflict between Sophie and Adam takes place within 120 seconds, including an actually funny cold open and Holm perfectly delivering the Method acting meta line, “I’m in character so this doesn’t count” as he’s shirtless except for his superhero mask when making out with a production assistant.

At Midnight

“At Midnight”

Paramount Plus

The problem with “At Midnight” isn’t the gorgeous scenery or the casual believability of the sparks between Boneta and Barbaro. It’s the production quality — mostly that there is none. Episodes of “Bachelor in Paradise” have better cinematography than this Paramount+ feature, making the streamer seem incapable of competently funding anything that isn’t produced by Taylor Sheridan.

“I like that we don’t know each others’ names…you,” she says while walking away like a cool girl. The joke minutes later is that Alejandro is not the hot shot he carries himself as, and is instead beholden to his strict boss (Maya Zapata), who is unaware Alejandro is giving guests private tours of his bed sheets.

Sophie gives herself topless pep talks while imagining herself in superhero costume in the mirror and her friend Rachel reminds her that feminism is good and woke! Despite Sophie having a crisis that she is not a star without her leading man beside her offscreen. Sophie and Rachel have the best chemistry in the whole film — but it’s clearly from Cohen riffing in character, which comes across as desperate at times.

At Midnight

“At Midnight”

Paramount Plus

Cohen, hot off of one-episode stints on “Broad City,” “What We Do in the Shadows,” “Difficult People,” and “Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens,” plus two appearances on “Search Party,” oddly carries the movie more than Whitney Cummings’ PR-focused character, who is only seen calling in from Los Angeles and has no screen time with any of the main stars.

When Sophie freaks that she needs her ex (and current coworker) Adam to help her with an audition tape, Alejandro steps in. It’s only Rachel’s casual comment that Sophie shouldn’t need a man to do anything that has a “gee, shucks, you’re right” eyeroll and shrug from the characters.

But the saddest part is that Sophie does need a man, even though she’s a famous actress. Alejandro needs someone to encourage him to pursue his culinary talents instead of fetching towels for tourists. Seriously, he spends half the time balancing perfectly-rolled terry cloths while fumbling down hallways.

Even though Sophie’s professional career seems to find solidarity post-split, with her “Super Society” female director encouraging her to change dialogue and blocking on the spot to be a stronger female lead, Sophie strongly pursues Alejandro after hours, leading to fun explorations of Mexico City and sleepovers on the sand. Sophie’s budding relationship inspires the confidence she needs to fully ditch Adam both romantically and professionally.

“I don’t need you to be ME!” Sophie screams at Adam during her climatic revelation; yet moments later she’s running into the arms of Alejandro. Who is Sophie? We’ll never know, and nor do we really care. Barbaro gives just enough charisma to prove she is in fact an actual rising star, but “At Midnight” clocked out of all the possible tropes.

“I’m standing here in your outdoor kitchen asking you…do you have a late night menu?” Sophie says to Alejandro in her big final romantic moment, stolen from “Notting Hill.” We get it, Paramount+ has a deep catalogue of films, like “Notting Hill,” now streaming on the platform!

At Midnight

“At Midnight”

Paramount Plus

The meta rom-com mentions and references to real life, non-diegetic fellow movies isn’t cute. It’s lazy. Watching “At Midnight” reminds audiences that while sweet at times and easy to digest, there is nothing different or new here. Does there need to be? Not always, but when there are fizzier and better rom-coms out there, why waste the time? Barbaro and Boneta are better than this.

…and “this” is mostly the production quality. We need to talk about the editing and sound mixing for a minute. A mash-up of Pond 5 sounds and Moviehead Productions’ “Birdemic”-level transitions, “At Midnight” looks like it could have been edited by Neil Breen if he ever downgraded to iMovie.

Barbaro previously told IndieWire’s Kate Erbland that learning she was cast in “Top Gun: Maverick” as something other than just the “love interest” was a tear-filled moment for her family. It begs the question (or assumption) that “At Midnight” was in the works prior to Barbaro’s turn in the box office-busting “Top Gun” sequel. Thankfully Barbaro has plenty more time to show off the full range of her acting chops in the future after it strikes “Midnight.”

It’s still a shame that the references to everything from “America’s Sweethearts” to “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” didn’t rub off in the right away with writer-director Jonah Feingold, who penned the film alongside fellow screenwriters Maria Hinojos and Giovanni M. Porta. There was so much potential with the setting, two leads, and Paramount+ platform, not to mention the slew of cinema history to digest.

The tacked on post-modern “Notting Hill” monologue reference read more as an apologetic insert, or acknowledgment even, of the lack of high concept chemistry and production quality compared to a film that came out close to 25 years ago, almost the same age as its stars. Now that’s something to cry over.

Rating: D+

“At Midnight” is now available to stream on Paramount+. 

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