Night Owls **** (out of *****)

“This movie cost less to make than that car sitting outside,” Adam Pally said, comparing his new film Night Owls to the $220,000 Aston Martin parked in front of Music Box Theatre (AM is one of the sponsors of the Chicago Critics Film Festival.) “Like, $100,000 less.” You wouldn’t know by watching the film. Sure it’s just two people talking for 95% of the runtime, but everything looks stylish, with none of that lo-fi dark and grainy style familiar to low-budget endeavors. Maybe it does look cheap and I just didn’t notice because the story sucked me in so fast.

Pally and Rosa Salazar co-headline as two people who drunkenly hook up one night following a banquet. It isn’t until post-coitus that Pally’s Kevin realizes the girl he was just with is his boss’s mistress. By that time she’s already passed out on the bathroom floor overdosed on sleeping pills. That doesn’t seem like a great foundation for a romantic comedy, but let me tell you it works as well as any I’ve seen in the last decade.

Kevin is tasked with keeping the girl (Madeleine) awake all night after his boss sends a doctor to check on her. This leads to them chatting until the sun comes up, revealing a lot about themselves in the process. There are a lot of laughs throughout, but as we get further in to the night things take a dramatic turn.

This is Charles Hood’s first feature as director and co-writer, and he’s crafted a spectacular debut. The shots in the film are elegant and seamless and the script toes the line between hilarious comedy and deep drama without losing control of the tone. Credit also goes to the two stars for the chemistry they have onscreen. For a movie that hinges on the two leads it’s up to them to deliver and they go above and beyond here.

Pally in particular gives a tour de force performance ranging from slapstick physical comedy to harsh seriousness in a very short time. His Kevin is a lovable loser-type who’s trying to do what he thinks is right. He learns things that challenge his entire sense of self over a few hours, and by the end he’s a completely different person.

Salazar, the lesser-known of the two, also brings a great deal to the film. Her character is obviously dealing with a lot of issues, but she carries herself with a lot of charm and strength despite trying to kill herself.  This film could be the big breakout role that leads to her stardom.

Bottle movies are hard to do well. The ones considered great like The Breakfast Club, Die Hard, or 12 Angry Men all have one thing in common: strong, believable characters. It’s the only way to get away with having a full 90-120 minutes take place in one room or building. Night Owls definitely fits in with the others on that front. As Pally noted in a post-screening Q&A, “I always considered this my Die Hard.”

There is no official release date for this movie yet, but I highly recommend seeking it out in theaters or on VOD when it does (or if you have a film festival around your city and see that it’s playing, as was the case for me).

I couldn’t find a trailer to share, so here’s a really short interview with Pally and Salazar from SxSw:

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