Filmmaker Jonah Feingold has always been charmed by the idea of happily ever after. But as a hardened New Yorker, born and raised in Manhattan, he’s not naive enough to believe that’s always the way a love story ends.
In his first film, the modern romantic comedy “Dating and New York,” which follows two commitment-phobic millennials, he let audiences fall for the central couple (played by Jaboukie Young-White and Francesca Reale) for 90 minutes before breaking them up in the final seconds of the story. After the movie, which premiered at Tribeca Film Festival in 2021, was released by IFC Films to the world, he recalls getting a few angry emails about the ending.
“I don’t think, in a modern New York dating world, they would end up together,” Feingold, 32, says over coffee at Manhattan’s Marlton Hotel. “I was just trying to be honest.”
Feingold is revisiting the idea of fairytales in “At Midnight,” a romantic comedy starring Diego Boneta (“Terminator: Dark Fate) as a hotel manager and Monica Barbaro (“Top Gun: Maverick”) as a rising movie star, whose lives unexpectedly collide when her film starts shooting at the tropical Mexican resort where he works. Anders Holm, Whitney Cummings and Catherine Cohen also star in the movie, which debuts on Paramount+ on Feb. 10 in time for Valentine’s Day.
“Dating and New York” came out in September 2021 and, as any filmmaker does, I had complete panic and fear of what would happen next. What if people don’t see the film? What if I never get to make a movie again? I had a project that I was really excited about called “The Bar Downstairs.” I wrote a script that I had ready to go, and I was going to independently finance it the same way we made “Dating and New York.” It was an empowering process with 33 investors and no one to tell me what I could and couldn’t do. My agents were like, “Look, you just did that. Take a second and breathe.” I was like, “I gotta work. I didn’t make any money off ‘Dating and New York.’” So they sent it around to some places. We got a call from Miramax, and a wonderful executive loved the script. The same week, I got a call from my manager who was like, “There’s this project at Paramount+ with Diego Boneta. I think it’s really right for you.” I was drinking a martini, and I’m like, “Are you fucking with me?”
With “At Midnight,” are you trying to subvert rom-com tropes?
Yes, I want to try to do something different and will continue to try to do something different. I love a good meet-cute. But our movie focuses on character over the plot — who Monica’s character really is, which is why the sequence in Mexico City where you meet Diego’s family turns into this whole family drama. I don’t mind the tropes. But I want to bring a strong filmmaking aesthetic that honors classic cinema techniques to the genre.
Diego was attached, and the next part became who is our leading lady? There has to be chemistry. We read a lot of people and we got tapes. My agent was like, ‘I represent Monica. She’s done some great work. She has a great reel.’ I loved the material on her reel. I instantly felt like I knew her. “Top Gun: Maverick” had not come out yet. Monica and Diego read first over Zoom, and I wrote in my notes, “They’re fucking incredible.” I sent it to Paramount, and they loved her.