Sometimes a movie succeeds based on one simple factor, and in the case of Charles Hood’s Night Owls, that single winning ingredient is chemistry. Bubbly, all-too-charming chemistry. It sounds like such a write-off, because every movie depends on the chemistry between performers, but we all know there’s sometimes a noticeable wall that prevents characters from forming a connected unit. Fortunately, that problem does not exist between leading cohorts Adam Pally and Rosa Salazar, who strike a hilariously romantic chemistry that so many typical genre snoozers so sorely lack. Oh the wonders you can accomplish with only two actors who click on humanistic levels that engage both comedy and emotion, and look no further than Night Owls for proof.
The film opens with a drunken fling between two nameless characters we eventually learn to be Kevin (Pally) and Madeline (Salazar), who are both riding the highs of the previous night. All is not what it seems, though. Kevin’s love-struck state quickly turns to panic when he finds out that Madeline took him back to his boss’ house, and matters worsen when he finds Madeline passed out in the bathroom with an empty bottle of pills laying next to her. After a quick call, it’s not long before Dr. Newman (Tony Hale) rushes to Kevin’s aid, ensuring that Madeline doesn’t croak. His assessment (loaded with ample doses of sarcasm) is simple, and Newman gives Kevin strict orders – keep Madeline awake until morning so her brain doesn’t shut down from the drugs, and help will arrive. What started as some booty turns into a medical disaster for Kevin, but the night holds more surprises than he ever could have imagined.
As far as ridiculous cinematic situations that bring people together go, being stuck inside your boss’ house with a suicidal hookup would top any finely-researched list. In all honesty, it shouldn’t work. Why would Madeline stay imprisoned? Why would Kevin risk possible criminal charges to protect his boss? The set-up is preposterous, but it’s also the key to unlocking the wounded cores nestled underneath each character’s masked exterior. Hood and co-writer Seth Goldsmith understand how to maintain pace and release information only when necessary, which helps keep us invested in the powerful conversations taking place while also promoting further curiosity.
Night Owls is nothing without Pally and Salazar, because while the supporting cast includes Tony Hale, Rob Huebel, and Peter Krause, all three only appear for a solid fifteen minutes or so. The other hour and twenty-ish minutes, we’re along for the crazy ride that Kevin and Madeline take us on. There are divisions in tone that we’d expect, playing through acts that range from periods of confused anger to open connection, but no one mode outshines another. Madeline remains equally charming whether she’s macing Kevin in an attempt to leave, or sharing an intimate conversations about sexual partners over a casserole that includes what appears to be potato chips and Sriracha sauce. Likewise, the way Kevin’s obsession with his boss (a famous football coach) unfolds over time influences each scene, whether his competitive nature reaches a boiling point, or his chained-up spontaneity finally pokes through for a few short guffaws. Night Owls is equally hilarious and heartfelt, but it always remains raw, real, and refreshingly honest.
Hood also deserves credit for introducing me to my new celebrity crush, Rosa Salazar. Her character Madeline never hides an obviously wounded nature, and her brutally forward admissions are admirable in the most grounded of ways. It helps that she’s an absolute firecracker in the wit department, and is equally punny whether she’s drugged and sleep-deprived or firing off quippy one-liners in a playfully childish sort of manner. Deep down though, help is exactly what she’s crying out for. Salazar is both the girl next door and an unattainable Goddess, smart enough to hold her own yet vivacious enough to create a personable depth that proves good resides in all people. Madeline is a character worth all the manly adoration she receives, and that’s thanks to Salazar’s unflinching ability to release her inhibitions.
Give credit where credit is due though, because Pally is just as impactful when Kevin and Madeline are butting heads. For everything Salazar dishes out, Pally is able to shoot right back with retorts of similar ingenuity. He’s the epitome of blind ambition coupled with an incessant strive for personal success (something I can connect with far too easily), and his constant worship of coach Will (his before-mentioned boss) highlights both personal and societal issues.
We idolize figures who we know nothing about, and refuse to believe anything beyond public appearance exists in their lives. It’s a poisonous status for both the idol and his/her followers for different reasons, and in Will’s case, certain reveals tear down everything around him. We devote our lives to investing in people we don’t know – like eating, sleeping, and breathing football in Kevin’s sake – but at what cost? It’s a tough mirror to gaze into, but Pally’s on-point performance speaks to the beauty of life that we’d miss by being too caught up in staying busy.
There’s so much to love about Night Owls, and it all boils down to genuine, honest interactions between two people who aren’t afraid to hold back – much like Hood and Goldsmith’s script. Nothing is off limits. Madeline shows off her promiscuous starfish sex position, Will admits his romantic shortcomings, and both of them share warm embraces before Will’s boner “sullies” the moment (a compliment, if you ask me), but no matter what, Pally and Salazar never sacrifice their dynamite chemistry for schmaltzy gimmicks.
Night Owls is funny, adorable, vulgar, and powerfully sweet, which is something we don't get much of these days. Thanks, Charles Hood - I've been needing this one.