NIGHT OWLS Review | SXSW 2015

     March 13, 2015

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Want to see a movie about two people from completely different worlds who defy the odds and fall for one another? Probably not because a good deal of them are insanely schmaltzy and ridiculous, but writer-director Charles Hood actually manages to nail the all too familiar romance movie trope in his second feature, Night Owls.

Adam Pally and Rosa Salazar lead as Kevin and Madeline. He’s an especially determined and dedicated low-ranking assistant working for the Allen State football team and she’s a free-spirited wrecking ball in the middle of a relationship meltdown. The two meet at a banquet and she lures him home for a one-night stand. Trouble is, Madeline doesn’t bring Kevin back to her house. It’s her ex’s home and it just so happens that Madeline’s ex is also Kevin’s idol and boss, Allen State head coach Will Campbell (Peter Krause). As if that’s not bad enough, soon after connecting the dots, Kevin finds Madeline passed out on the bathroom floor. She overdosed and now it’s up to Kevin to keep her awake and ensure she makes it through the night.

Night Owls is one of the most immediately captivating films I’ve seen in a while thanks to spot-on writing and stellar performances. There are subtle hints that something isn’t quite right the moment Kevin and Madeline pull up to the house, but between his genuine, eager-to-please approach to their fling and her relentless persistence to get on with it, you instantly get caught up in the heat of the moment while still recognizing the challenge to dig deeper and consider the peculiarities of their situation.

Hood and his co-writer, Seth Goldsmith, don’t just approach the more humorous content as jokes that need to land. They’re all so well woven into the narrative that even when one isn’t laugh-out-loud funny, it still feels natural and says something about the characters. And of course it helps that Pally and Salazar’s delivery, body language, timing and chemistry are all so on point that they earn loads of big laughs while still making Kevin and Madeline feel like real people dealing with relatable issues.

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Image via SXSW

Night Owls is a true comedy-drama, almost from start to finish. Don’t expect Hood to do a complete 180 when it comes time to tackle the more serious elements of the script. A good deal of the first act is humor-heavy, but when Madeline comes back from her overdoes and the meatier conversations begin, there’s an exceptional balance between the comedy and the deeper, more personal material. One moment the pair is discussing heartbreak and suicide, but then the film expertly makes its way into Will’s daughter’s room for an especially charming and amusing game of darts.

The transitions from one to the other always feels natural, but you are well aware that they’re happening for one reason – you come to care about the characters. When Kevin and Madeline are on better terms, you’re having fun and genuinely want things to work out for both of them. However, when she starts to tip the scale by poking holes in Kevin’s perception of Will or when Kevin judges Madeline’s relationship with him, a mere conversation becomes a surprisingly tense situation because you’re holding out hope that they say the right things to each other and can maybe live happily ever after. When they don’t, you feel the frustration, disappointment and/or heartbreak right along with them.

What they’re struggling through is very specific, but the scenario involves rather serious issues that almost anyone can relate to, specifically giving up everything for your job and feeling like there’s no hope. That ability to connect certainly adds another layer to the experience, but Hood also never lets go of the levity he establishes at the start of the film. He makes it fun to step into someone else’s shoes, experience their problems and then consider your own. Night Owls is really the complete package. It’s an especially engaging film that puts a smile on your face with witty banter, makes you feel for the main characters and also leaves you with something meaningful to hold onto after.

Grade: A-

Click here for all of our SXSW 2015 coverage or browse the links below to check out my other reviews:

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