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Salt Lake City Weekly The Dating Game

Myles Berkowitz is a boor who goes on 20 Dates. If only he weren't so funny.

By Greg Beacham

MARCH 29, 1999:  Making a film about yourself has to be the transcontinental balloon voyage of ego trips. It takes a rare mix of bravado, megalomania and idiocy to presume to foist your life on complete strangers.

That demented chutzpah is part of the drive behind the recent spate of life-as-entertainment films and television shows like The Real World, The Truman Show and the upcoming EdTV. Voyeurism is one thing, but invited voyeurism, DePalma-style, is something few can resist--no matter how fragmented, dishonest or pretentious the final product of that voyeurism may be.

Myles Berkowitz is just another face in the vast crowd of wannabes, has-beens and yeah-sures who exist in the periphery of Hollywood. He's thirtysomething and looking it, a failed writer, actor and director who has never actually made a movie, though he really, really loves them and hopes to do one someday.

So he gets this idea. As he tells us, he'll combine "my two biggest failures: my professional life and my personal life" by making a movie about his quest for true love. The once-divorced Romeo will go on dates with a specific number of women, videotape what happens and ... well, we're never quite sure exactly what the point is. Berkowitz is more interested in the journey than the destination. Fair enough.

His film is called 20 Dates, and it won the Audience Award at Slamdance in 1998; a more appropriate title would be All About Myles. Only someone with Berkowitz's grating, rapacious personality and a boundless amount of self-absorption could even concoct the idea for this film, much less carry it out. As he proceeds to take out a spate of Seinfeldianly beautiful women, we come to see and loathe every wart on Berkowitz's pock-marked psyche.

But Berkowitz is in on the joke, and he's at the point in his filmmaking career (Square One) that he doesn't care who knows he's a pretentious jerk with marginal talent and no charm. He actually interviews a number of his friends, and they all tell him he's a pompous ass who delights in humiliating the people around him. Berkowitz revels in his repulsiveness, and you can only have a baffled respect for a guy who's this obnoxious when he's sober.

Still, the film is nominally about his adventures with women. Berkowitz runs through a succession of perfectly nice dates, and he drives almost all of them off screaming. He talks freely about his constipation at dinner. He somehow thinks it's funny not to tell some of the dates they're being filmed until midway through. He basically does everything he can to alienate the entire female population of Los Angeles--and from what we can see, he succeeds. His ego is such that Berkowitz paints himself as a happy-go-lucky loser in love, but that shtick loses its charm and authenticity rather quickly. We just don't care if Myles ever finds that special girl, however enjoyable his search may be.

This movie would be a completely enervating, grating bore--if it weren't so frequently hilarious. Whatever his flaws as a human being, Berkowitz is able to create humor out of almost every awkward situation he finds himself in, while still avoiding Lettermanesque stand-around-until-somebody-laughs gags. He's a better editor than an actor or director; the film contains a bushel of quick-cuts and outtakes from a wide variety of Hollywood films that provide the text from which he is working.

More importantly, Myles is a genuinely funny guy when he isn't being an ass. For instance, Berkowitz's shadowy producer, Elie, says he wants more sex in the film and arranges a date with a "model" who appears to be getting paid by the hour and who accepts the Discover card. Myles is outraged that the artistic integrity of his film is being compromised, so he has sex with her but doesn't film it.

His quest for available women to date continues through AA meetings, fetish clubs and the fat-free aisle at the supermarket (that's where he asks a girl, "Going to a fat-free party?"). Eventually, Berkowitz hooks up with a gorgeous, witty interior design student named Elisabeth. She apparently sees something in Myles that doesn't show up in the film, because the two get hot and heavy pretty quickly. Now our hero's in a bind: He's met a nice girl, but he hasn't finished his movie. What's an auteur to do?

Berkowitz makes some pop-psych stabs at analyzing love, a patently ridiculous thing to do. He has no insights--who does? Myles' final observation is hit-me-on-the-head obvious: being single is like being an actor. Give that man a shiny apple.

Berkowitz aims high, and 20 Dates misses its target badly. The underlying humor of this man's journey through the single underworld is undeniable; it's just that when the joke's always on you, it's probably time to stop laughing.

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