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Myles To Go

By Ellen Fox

MARCH 15, 1999:  "Have some breakfast. Look at this beautiful stuff we got here - have an omelette... You wanna omelette? Sure, have a regular breakfast. It's on the studio, whadda you care?"

Myles Berkowitz - who looks like a nebbishy JFK Jr. and is, oh, about as charismatic as my dentist - is doing that niggling, not-quite-endearing schtick he maintains throughout his new movie "20 Dates." (He's the director and star.) The newest commodity at 20th Century Fox is taking me out for Belgian waffles at the Ritz-Carlton while he's in town promoting the film, which follows him through the titular number of dates as he attempts to both actualize true love in L.A. and realize the more self-loving endeavor of filmmaking itself. Like a date who's screwing you before you realize it, "20 Dates" charms you while you're watching it, but eventually leaves you bitter. In his anything-for laughs version of guerrilla filmmaking, Berkowitz crashes wedding parties wielding a video recorder at eligible women, and practically makes an earnest date burst into tears when he tells her she's on candid camera.

"The most powerful, saddest part," I begin, "is that poor woman who looks into the camera and is heartbroken. What happened with her? Did she really sue you?"

"I have two lawsuits. One is settled, one isn't, so I can't really talk about that," he laughs breezily. "But, but, but in terms of your other question," Berkowitz says, "do you think that there's a change in the end in me?"

"You seem to be a little less... ya know... mean, or just like... obnoxious," I nod. "Hey, I was in my early thirties. I was single. I'd just gotten divorced. I had an edge to me," he goes on, "and ya know what? I think that it would have been very obnoxious for me to try to portray myself as this wonderfully nice guy when that's not real."

What's real and what's not is also a sticky part of "20 Dates." Berkowitz is careful to note that his film, though unscripted and free of real actors, is not a documentary. Instead, he likens it to MTV's "The Real World" - that series in which real people (most of them jerks) ham it for the sake of being their own TV heroes.

When "20 Dates" is considered alongside last year's indie dating pic "Unmade Beds," in which real people read pre-scripted accounts of their love lives, it makes me wonder if people can ever let their guard down enough to make a completely guileless portrait of dating.

Maybe it's just a reflex, but as Berkowitz picks up the tab ("We're doin' movies, baby, just walk away.") and hurries to his next date with NPR, I find myself blurting out "I'll tell people to see your movie" with all the assurance with which I've told lesser men that I'll call them.

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