Austin Film Festival 2015: ‘Night Is Young’ is outrageous but sweet

A scene from "The Night Is Young."
A scene from “The Night Is Young.”

Jane Sumner wrote this review for the American-Statesman.

This funny, florid and outrageous but ultimately sweet comedy romance about the Los Angeles dating scene by first-time filmmakers Matt Jones (Badger in “Breaking Bad”) and Dave Hill (Matthew Derringer in “The Most Popular Girls in School”) is the third film titled “The Night Is Young.”

The 1935 feature had Mexican sex symbol Ramon Novarro as an Austrian archduke ducking an arranged marriage to a royal he doesn’t love. In the 1986 French film, originally titled “Mauvais Sang (Bad Blood),” Leos Carax directed an influential, poetic and visually stunning crime drama with Denis Levant and Juliette Binoche. Jones’ and Hill’s debut couldn’t be more different.

Using their own first names as lead characters, the co-writers-directors play friends Matt (Jones) and Dave (Hill) fed up with their show business jobs and life in the City of Angels.

Matt is an actor everyone thinks is mentally challenged since he plays a dim character named Smash, who crushes empty beer cans against his head, in a popular TV series “The Hard Line.”

Dave is a writer for the American version of a kids’ show about a magical evil-fighting panda that’s big in Korea and, he says, “barely entertains six-year-olds.” But his overbearing, nasty boss is a 25-year-old Ivy Leaguer who constantly rewrites his material.

Tired of rejection, Dave tells his sad, negative buddy Matt that he’s falling apart and needs to drink some drinks and talk to women. He wonders if there are fascinating people out there and they just haven’t met them. Soon they will.

And as luck would have it they go to the same bar where sensible market analyst Amy (Kelen Coleman) is trying to keep her more adventurous friend, waitress and aspiring actress Syd (Eloise Mumford), from getting involved with a “hot” good-looking waiter.

When a bartender blithely ignores Matt and Dave to serve Amy and Syd, the men protest and meet the smart, opinionated women Dave declares are bitches. “Which is attractive,” Matt says. Syd says she knows Dave. He’s the guy who stares at her butt in yoga class. And so it begins.

The LA quartet is real and appealing. But along the way we meet a series of self-absorbed, off-putting characters with conversation so inane we understand why singles turn from the bar scene to computer dating.

Before the evening is over, Dave will tell off his officious boss Darren (Johnny Pemberton) and quit his job to audience cheers. The four twentysomethings play “conversational tennis,” drink, change bars, drink, pair off, re-align and hail a ride to a house party.

And it’s here we encounter veteran actress Allison Janney, whose many credits include “The West Wing,” as Wanda the driver who dispenses such words of wisdom that Dave asks if she’s a ghost. It’s a cameo turn, but Janney stands out as a positive force who doesn’t need unparliamentary language to make a point.

House party host Rick Ramsey (Brett Gelman) leads his guests through Griffith Park to an overlook with the observatory from “Rebel Without a Cause” in the background. As shot by cinematographer Dominique Martinez, the lights of Los Angeles sparkle like diamonds (or unfulfilled dreams) down below, and though everyone shouts epithets to the city, it’s a charming, uplifting scene, the start of some friendships and maybe something more.

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