I should preface this review by saying I’m a bit of an Adam Pally fanboy* (his wonderfully awkward stint as host of the Late Late Show is the best television can get), but I’m not going to because I’m confident there is no caveat or asterisk needed when saying his Kevin is a great character in an even better film. Night Owls, the new romantic comedy from Charles Hood and Seth Goldsmith, is a story you’ve seen a million times: Boy meets Girl. Girl takes Boy home. Boy and Girl have sex. Girl attempts suicide. Boy must keep Girl awake to, hopefully, advance his career.
The film begins with an obviously drunk couple, Pally’s Kevin and Madeline, played by Rosa Salazar with complete, brilliant reckless abandon, in the midst of an obvious after-the-bar hookup. It’s been said that playing intoxicated is as difficult a task as any, but Salazar pulls it off right down to the sloppy, facehugger-esque kissing technique that only rears its head when the night has reached the “tequila shot” portion. While making his inevitable, yet oddly scot-free postcoital getaway, he discovers he is in the house of his employer, Will Campbell (an evil Cartman version of the always fantastic Peter Krause), a high profile football coach; and the girl he just had sex with has used him for a final “fuck you” to her married lover before downing a bottle of Xanax. From there the movie is about getting to know each other by necessity as Kevin is given the job and responsibility of keeping Madeline awake to avoid any attention her suicide attempt could bring the high profile college with whom they are both acquainted.
The chemistry shared between Pally and Salazar is obvious and vacillates between Jim and Pam and Spy vs. Spy. Pally’s Kevin, ultimately wants and needs to be loved and is willing to endure just about anything for a shot at advancement with seemingly no preference on whether said advancement is in his personal or professional life. He spends most of the movie resenting the babysitter role he has been giving, but still hoping for the best out of it. Salazar’s Madeline is the sort of beautiful mess who confidently goes through life with no idea of the how or why. I’m not one to describe a performance as “brave”, but while in her overdosed stupor, she nakedly leads with her head like only a drunk toddler can. Pally and Salazar have said they would like this film to be their Before Sunrise trilogy, and have completely knocked a dark version of those films out of the park.
The thing that most impresses me about Night Owls is how well the director, Hood, and the cinematographer, Adrian Correia use its central, and only, location. The entire movie takes place in and around one house. Throughout the first 15 minutes of the film, the house, as a location, forces feelings of claustrophobia and, like Kevin, makes the viewer want to be anywhere but this sex deathtrap of a house. As the movie unfolds, it suddenly is as wide open as an entire city. The filmmakers follow Kevin and Madeline on their unlikely date treating each area of the house like a new location to learn something about each other. The music throughout the film was sparse and flawless; fitting Night Owls so perfectly, I actually skimmed through upon finishing the movie to ensure its presence. If that sounds like a backhanded compliment, it’s not.
Night Owls is a superb film to show aspiring filmmakers that art can be made anywhere with limited resources. It uses its limited cast and location to create a love story that may or may not be. Night Owls is a darkly comedic Once with attempted suicide. I’m forced to give it a 5 out of 5 because it made me feel things.