SXSW Film review: ‘Night Owls’ turns genre on head

Adam Pally and Rosa Salazar in "Night Owls."
Adam Pally and Rosa Salazar in “Night Owls.”

With “Night Owls,” director Charles Hood has managed to successfully reinvent the boy-meets-girl genre and turn it on its head. The film begins in a purely comic fashion with Kevin (Adam Pally from “The Mindy Project”) and Madeline (Rosa Salazar from “Parenthood”), who have left an event together and are on their way to a clumsy, alcohol-fueled one night stand.


She brings him into what he assumes is her home, but even in his drunken state, he frequently comments about how nice the house is and asks what she does for a living. There is a fair amount of fumbling, but they eventually have sex and pass out. When Kevin wakes up in the middle of the night, Madeline is no longer in the bed with him. He wanders around the house looking for her and, now that he’s slightly more sober, discovers that it isn’t her house at all. In fact, he’s standing in the home of his boss, a state college football coach who has long been Kevin’s personal hero and mentor. By the time that he finds Madeline, she’s passed out in the bathroom after taking an entire bottle of Xanax. After getting her to throw up the pills, he has to make sure she doesn’t fall asleep to ensure she stays alive.


This puts the wheels in motion for the rest of the movie, which is really a terrific showcase for two fine actors to exhibit their talents in riding a fine line between an increasingly dark storyline that is expertly laced with slapstick comedy. The script, co-written by Hood and Seth Goldsmith, offers surprisingly poignant moments and is highlighted by Pally’s grand comic timing.


“Night Owls” isn’t a typical romantic comedy in any capacity, and it succeeds because the lead actors have such an incredibly genuine chemistry. These two characters, completely unknown to each other before this moment in time, meet up with the intention of physical pleasure. Instead they end up basically pushing each other through an intense all-night therapy session, revealing heartbreaks and misplaced admiration.


Sharp widescreen cinematography, filled with fluid camera movements in a beautifully decorated home, helps make what is essentially two people talking for ninety solid minutes into something that is never boring to look at despite the limitations of location. Sharply observed and surprisingly affecting, this is a film you need to make sure is on your schedule this week.


“Night Owls” screens again on Sunday at 5:30 p.m. at the Alamo South Lamar and again on March 21 at 1:30 p.m. at the Alamo South Lamar.


Author: Charles Ealy

Charles Ealy edits and writes about books and movies for the Ausstin American-Statesman.

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