As a self-professed romantic comedy fiend, I’m wary and judgmental of most films that attempt to appeal to lovers of the genre. Some manage to strike a chord and offer something worth rewatching again and again (and again), appealing to the hopeless romantics in all of us with something sweet but not too saccharine. But others, especially recently, fail to find the right balance of “rom” and “com,” usually leaning more on comedy, and disparaging fans of the genre by acting above the earnestness that makes such fluffy films work. It’s a tough balance, one that few studios have managed to strike since the rom-com boom of the ‘90s and early aughts, especially with the slow disappearance of the mid-budget film.

But never fear, because Paramount+ is here. From writer-director Jonah Feingold comes a worthy addition to the rom-com canon: At Midnight, a new film starring Monica Barbaro as Sophie, an actress coping with both the state of her career and her former relationship with her co-star, who cheated on her during the production of their latest film — a superhero epic for those with questionable taste. When she meets Alejandro (Diego Boneta), the manager of the hotel hosting them while they’re shooting in Mexico, sparks fly, even if their respective jobs keep them from being together until long after the sun has set.

While it might be easy to dismiss the film as another subpar project dumped to streaming for lack of quality, At Midnight thrives under the same conditions as its predecessors, films like Roman Holiday and Letters to Juliet where the location is just as much a character as its alluring leads. (Bonus points for a third of the film’s dialogue actually being in Spanish!) For those who love a good chick flick, it’s pure cinematic comfort food, an easy watch with few consequences, and all the hallmarks of a film prime for rewatches. Feingold expertly manipulates tropes that could’ve turned old and tired in the wrong hands, and while I’ve not seen his first feature, Dating & New York, his sophomore outing proves he’s one to watch in this arena.

Image via Paramount+

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The same goes for Barbaro, as her star continues to rise after the release of the now Oscar-nominated Top Gun: Maverick. She brings the same kind of charisma to Sophie that she did to Phoenix, a leading lady with a chip on her shoulder, and I wouldn’t be upset if she made that her niche going forward. Frankly, she could have chemistry with a brick wall, and putting her next to Boneta is truly a genius move on Feingold’s part — their spark is as palpable as the fire powers of Sophie’s superhero alter ego, Firephina, and the connection is (rightly) what carries the film above and beyond its rather simple plot. But simple is good when it comes to rom-coms — great, even, when you have a pair like Barbaro and Boneta, who are so electric to watch that I could’ve been duped into watching them read the phone book for ninety minutes and I’d still be pleased.

Fernando Carsa and Catherine Cohen are equally charming in smaller roles, and At Midnight creates such a warm atmosphere, both through its characters and its tropical setting, that I find myself wanting to curl up with it like a warm blanket in the middle of such a dismal winter as this one. It knows what it is, and it embraces it wholeheartedly — while some of the jokes may not land, and the story is more predictable than not, it’s abundantly clear that Feingold has a deep love and appreciation for the genre he’s working in. Its Roman Holiday-esque plot feels like a love letter to romance films across cinema history, with its sweeping score, grand speeches, and sincerity in the tale it’s trying to tell. Feingold knows his influences, salutes them, and joins them in the annals of rom-com history all at once, proof that it doesn’t take a massive budget or a perfectly polished script to make something audiences will love.

at midnight diego boneta
Image via Paramount+

At Midnight is a rom-com that loves the hell out of rom-coms, and rightly so — the genre’s at its best when it’s not trying to be clever or smart or better than those that came before it, when it fully embraces the warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with watching two people fall in love, and Feingold’s script knows it. (Nothing says classic like the good old “oh shit, I love him” moment in the bathroom.)

I’d call this Barbaro’s Set It Up, to call back to the film that gave her Maverick co-star Glen Powell his big break, but that feels like it would undermine the sweetness and sincerity of At Midnight, which stands in contrast to other more recent rom-coms. While I’ll take anything I can get from a now sparse genre, there’s something special about a story this heartwarming, that leans into its romantic gestures and awkward moments with all the affection of someone you hold dear. It’s also a love letter to filmmaking, and a balm for the stress of people who choose to pursue it — particularly women, even if all of its statements about ladies in the industry don’t stick the landing – and it makes me want more and more from everyone involved, regardless of what they pursue next.

Rating: B+

At Midnight is streaming now on Paramount+.

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