“Night Owls” begins at the end of an evening, with two drunk strangers stumbling toward bed together. We know even less about them than they do about each other: she’s a beautiful brunette (Rosa Salazar) with a crazy streak; he’s a funny doofus (Adam Pally) who has scored out of his league. It’s bound for one-night-stand status until she takes a post-coital overdose of Xanax and he’s tasked with keeping her awake and alive.
Why can’t they just go to the hospital? That’s the other thing: they’re not at her house, like he thought they were. They’re at his boss’s house. And his boss, a family man, is a public figure. And they didn’t end up here randomly.
Part of the fun of this congenial, mostly two-person comedy lies in learning the details gradually, not via exposition dump. Directed by Charles Hood (his first feature) and written by him and Seth Goldsmith, the film starts with things already in motion, and unfolds theatrically; with its small cast and single location, you can imagine it being performed as a play.
The general idea (without spoiling anything) is that the girl, Madeline, wants to make trouble for the guy’s boss. The guy, Kevin, idolizes his employer, calls him his mentor, points to all the people in the community whose lives he has enriched. As the hours pass, as Kevin keeps Madeline awake and talking, and in between her bouts of sleepiness, she mocks his blind devotion and hero worship, while he questions her unhealthy fixation on his boss.
Their sparring is witty and full of personality, and frequently marked by nimble physical comedy. Adam Pally, from TV’s “Happy Endings” and “The Mindy Project,” has a winning style that combines snark and silliness, and which deserves a bigger platform than his underrated TV work has gotten. Rosa Salazar, unknown to me (she had a recurring role on “Parenthood”), starts as a character who only has to be sexy (which she is) before emerging as one who’s also sassy, blunt, and self-assured, able to hold her own, argument-wise, even while recovering from a Xanax overdose. Pally and Salazar make a good team.
They’re assisted, mostly via phone calls, by Rob Huebel as Kevin’s damage-controlling supervisor, and Tony Hale as a doctor (well, podiatrist) called in by Huebel. Peter Krause eventually materializes as the man of the hour, Kevin’s boss, in what can only feel like a letdown after Hood spends the whole movie going out of his way not to let us see what he looks like. (Surprise! Kevin works for Peter Krause.)
Throughout the film, the humor is sharp but not caustic, and it’s frequently very funny. When the questions Kevin and Madeline fire at each other start to hit too close to home, the actors succeed at taking their performances to a deeper, more real place without getting maudlin, and without the movie getting ponderous. It’s a thoughtful, humorous, uncomplicated film that invites us to spend time with two highly enjoyable people. Which is always a plus when a one-night stand gets dragged out for 24 hours.
B (1 hr., 30 min.; )
Originally published at Movie Mezzanine.