Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle 20 Dates

By Marc Savlov

MARCH 29, 1999: 

D: Myles Berkowitz. (R, 88 min.)

It's a sound premise, you have to admit: Hopelessly unattached romantic and Hollywood bottom feeder decides to film his own quest for companionship and thereby break into not only the movie business, but also storm the gates of love. Fat chance. Berkowitz, tall, unassuming, obnoxious, and more schmuck than most eligible bachelorettes would care to handle, is a social boor of the first stripe. Opening salvos in his conversational Olympics include protests over dairy products ("It makes me constipated") to less romantic topics such as his ex-wife. Quite simply, he lacks the finesse it takes to make it in today's cutthroat world of mutual appreciation and amore. Having secured $60,000 in production funding from a mysterious, unseen, foreign-accented backer named Elie, Berkowitz and his agent begin filming a series of 20 dates, by the end of which, presumably, the director will have either found what he's looking for or at the very least have a salable piece of filmmaking. The first date goes poorly due to the proximity of the camera and sound boom, and from there on in, Berkowitz rather foolishly chooses to move into cloak-and-dagger territory, keeping his two-man crew out of the sight of his victims, ah, dates and instead trampling civil rights all around. Bad idea. While several of these dates proceed less than horribly, when the women in question find out that they've been used as fodder for his film -- even after he explains his somewhat addled mission -- the lawsuits begin, inciting the rage of Berkowitz's lawyer and putting a damper on the film in general. Undaunted, Berkowitz continues, partly due to the fact that he truly is desperate to find someone, and partly because his backer, Elie, (whom Berkowitz surreptitiously tape-records during a series of increasingly hilarious harangues) is threatening to have him killed if he doesn't turn in a movie in 60 days, preferably with plenty of "tits, ass, and sex." And you thought documentary filmmakers had it easy. When Berkowitz begins to fixate on the pretty manager of an upscale linen store, Elisabeth, things take a complete 180-degree turn: Love, seemingly impossible, is finally in the air. But now that he's found it, what to do about the remaining four dates? 20 Dates is a curiosity. Berkowitz purports to be enlightening us about the problematic L.A. dating scene -- and thereby our own love lives -- while proving just what a bad catch he himself is. He enlists a parade of friends and semi-loved ones, even his ex-wife, who all agree he's a shallow, callous lug. It's doubly amazing, then, when Elisabeth actually falls for this gregarious lummox. Also on hand are famed film scholar Robert McKee, who mutters droll, incisive asides on the nature of love and filmmaking in the Nineties and Tia Carrere, a personal friend of Elie, who's there, one assumes, to add to the producer's much ballyhooed T&A. Bizarre, trenchant, and unexpectedly hilarious, this is one regular guy's foray into the lonely world of love. Were that all budding relationships came out this well.
3.0 stars

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