20 Dates
Written and directed by Myles Berkowitz
A Fox Searchlight release
Julie Mehta

Like The Truman Show, 20 Dates is another movie whose premise is more intriguing than the actual film. The gimmick is simple: Director Myles Berkowitz sets out to chronicle his search for love by finding and filming 20 of his own dates.

Right from the start, the movie has the contrived feel of an info-mercial. Even after he resorts to using a hidden camera to make the situations more authentic, Berkowitz of course still knows he's being filmed--and it shows. It wouldn't matter as much except that he keeps stressing the genuineness of his experience, even as he milks it for comic effect.

The film's central conflict arises when Berkowitz meets the woman of his dreams and pursues her, while still trying to fulfill the movie's original intentions. He is so determined to be "real" that he is sure not to make himself look good; in fact, he goes out of his way to look bad, becoming such an unsympathetic character that it's hard to care if he DOES get the girl.

All this being said, the movie does offer some good laughs, but only during the first few dates, before the novelty wears off. Berkowitz gets some interesting insights from friends and strangers on the search for dating material in the urban wasteland and cynical reflections on love from his mentor, screen writing instructor Robert McKee.

Most amusing, though, are the glimpses into the film making process, including technical goof-ups and Berkowitz's exchanges with his habitually swearing, ultra-practical producer, Elie, who tries to make him turn the movie into a sex fest to sell more tickets.

Myles Berkowitz
After 12 years trying to "make it" in Los Angeles, Myles Berkowitz was still searching for his happy ending. Though his background included acting in commercials and off-Broadway shows-- even landing television writing credits on several episodes of Tales From the Crypt, the big-screen breakthrough he'd dreamed of still eluded him. In his thirties and divorced, Berkowitz finally decided to combine his searches for professional and personal success by filming his dates. "People keep telling me how brave I was to do this," he says. "I tell them I made this movie out of complete desperation."

With a budget of only $60,000, Berkowitz went looking for love with friend Adam Biggs, his one-man camera crew. But he wasn't too optimistic. "I thought this would be a mean, vicious comedy about dating." But Berkowitz also knew the nature of his idea lent itself to unexpected twists. A disastrous one came early on when two of the dates filmed by hidden camera sued him. Then some of his investors pulled out. Luckily, Producer Elie Samaha stuck with him, even after Berkowitz said he wanted to include in the film tapes he had secretly made of their numerous clashes. Berkowitz ended up with over 120 hours of footage and spent a year in the editing room paring it down to 88 minutes that show his struggle to stay true to his idea. "It's like when I was little and wasn't very good at baseball, so I got my own balls and bat and they had to let me on the team," says Berkowitz. "I made this movie on my own terms."

There are occasional flashes of truth, like the hurt on the face of one of his hidden camera dates when she realizes the evening has simply been a movie scene or his own desperation watching couples on the street. In one scene a woman tells him his film isn't so much about love as it is about him. Indeed, the film sheds much less light on how people fall in love than on the games they play looking for it. home