20 Dates

on February 26, 1999 by Jon A. Walz
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In this mangled faux-documentary about his equally mangled love life and attempt to find everlasting romance over the course of 20 dates, writer/director/star Myles Berkowitz comes so close to creating a perfect, convincing documentary that when the film begins to slip and show its scripted and manufactured roots, it pulls the whole stage down with it. To its credit, "20 Dates" begins quite well. Armed with all the tools of the mockumentary trade, Berkowitz gets deep into the backstory of his life--the marriage gone bad, his awkwardness around women--finding terrific comedy in his early first dates, and, as is standard in the format, intermingling the story with testimonials and opinions on love from such "experts" as Hollywood script doctor Robert McKee. Suddenly he meets the woman of his dreams, Elizabeth, a sales clerk in a Brentwood home design store, but he's not yet gone on the 20 dates his screaming financier needs him to complete. The financier, who is, of course, under federal investigation, threatens Berkowitz to finish the film, and sends him one of his "friends"--a hooker--in an attempt to motivate his director and to get more T&A in the film. Elizabeth, Berkowitz's new love, does not like the idea of his continued dating, but allows him to do so for the sake of the film.
   Unlike the perennial classic of this genre, "Spinal Tap," which left no question about the authenticity of the band and situations (fake, for those who might not have seen it), Berkowitz obviously worked endlessly to fashion an authentic-looking documentary out of scripted scenarios and a handful of real interviews that, to its detriment, is unrelenting in its assertion of total reality. Finally, believability is breached by the combined effect of a few bad date scenarios, badly written and performed monologues from the financier, and an abnormally obtrusive camera (sometimes anticipating the drama, and on several occasions in the room before the characters enter). "20 Dates" is smart in concept, but the audience is onto the joke long before the mid-way mark. Had the filmmaker gone the path of the true, entertaining, and unpretentious faux-documentary, the audience would have cheered our love-starved hero along his entire journey rather than restlessly waiting for a date to strangle him with a camera cable. Starring Myles Berkowitz and Elizabeth Wagner. Written and directed by Myles Berkowitz. Produced by Mark McGarry and Jason Villard. A Fox Searchlight release. Comedy. Not yet rated. Running time: 92 min.
Tags: Myles Berkowitz, Elizabeth Wagner, Mark McGarry, Jason Villard, Fox Searchlight, Comedy
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