I got to see Who Invited Charlie? at the Austin Film Festival. It’s one of the funniest movies of the year. Which was a wonderful thing to experience because 2022 has felt very thin on pure comedies. I laughed a lot during Barbarian, but that’s a horror movie. I laughed a lot during Triangle of Sadness, but that’s a literary drama. When it comes to the world of feel good comedies, I’ve just been waiting and waiting and waiting for something to make me laugh out loud rather than simply smile or chuckle. Thankfully, Who Invited Charlie? exists.
Made in the midst of COVID, documenting both the absurdities and fears of the era, writer Nicholas Schutt and director Xavier Manrique have put together the first COVID-related film that I’ll cherish.
The premise is a classic. A family has fallen into a rut. An outsider steps into the picture and creates the kind of evolutionary chaos that’s frustrating, hilarious, and ultimately good for everyone. A legendary example of this is Uncle Buck, the 1989 John Candy film, where the irresponsible uncle has to watch three young kids. A few years later saw the release of the animated rollercoaster that is Bébé’s Kids, based on a tremendous stand up routine by Robin Harris. Or 1993’s Mrs. Doubtfire, where a divorced father (Robin Williams) dresses up as an old woman to work as a housekeeper in order to spend more time with his children. There’s Vin Diesel in The Pacifier (2005) where Diesel’s a Navy SEAL who has to go undercover as a family caretaker. In 2011, Jonah Hill upped the ante from PG fun to the R-rated The Sitter—a film with a lot of Bébé’s Kids anarchy.
One of the great things about narrative archetypes like this is that they allow for so much creative freedom. You get the core elements of “group in need of change” and “outsider who will cause change” then you put them in whatever situation you want to explore and insert the kind of humor you want. Sometimes the humor is on the more family-friendly side, like Buck, Doubtfire, and Pacifier. Other times it’s a bit more transgressive, like with Bébé and Sitter.
In terms of setting, Who Invited Charlie? picks the weirdness that was the COVID times of 2020. The characters retreat from New York City to the more isolated shores of Long Island. And for humor, it lands in a great middle ground between family friendly and adult.
The titular Charlie is played by Adam Pally. Pally’s a master of a brand of comedy that’s observational, disruptive, and transgressive in the best of ways. What he says has the delight of the unexpected, that “I can’t believe he said that!” energy, but he’s never cruel. It’s what made him such a beloved character on shows like Happy Endings and The Mindy Project. The freedom Pally has as Charlie is enormous and means his talent is able to not only shine but exhilarate the entire viewing experience. You just want to hear what joke he’ll make next.
Thankfully, Who Invited Charlie? doesn’t rely only on Pally. It brings together the unlikely yet wonderful pairing of Jordana Brewster and Reid Scott, as Rosie and Phil, a couple in the trenches of their marriage. I’m so acclimated to Brewster in the world of Fast and Furious, that it was refreshing to see her in a completely different genre, tapping into other facets of her acting range, while still bringing that undeniable charisma and gravity. Then Reid was my favorite character in one of my favorite shows of all-time, Veep. I loved that Scott got to have that a-type energy he does so well but show a more vulnerable side. As much as I enjoyed the individual aspects of these characters, the way Brewster and Scott played off one another was one of my favorite parts of the film.
But a lot of the inter-character focus isn’t on the relationship between Rosie, Phil, and Charlie. It’s actually on Charlie and Max. Max, played by Peter Dager, is the son caught in the midst of the cold war between his parents. He’s stressed and paralyzed by the tension in their home. In need of encouragement and kindness from a father figure, he turns to Charlie. And it’s great to see Max come out of his shell. There’s a genuineness and charm in the way Dager reacts to Pally that had me all the more bought in on the friendship formed between their characters.
There are a few scenes between Pally and Xosha Roquemore as a next door neighbor, also hiding from COVID. If you’ve never watched The Mindy Project, you’ll just notice the wonderful chemistry the two have and see Xosha as a wonderful bonus. If you’ve watched The Mindy Project, then it’s a mini-reunion that will make your heart sing.
Do yourself a favor, and, when you can, watch Who Invited Charlie? You deserve a good laugh.
- Charlie – Adam Pally
- Rosie – Jordana Brewster
- Phil – Reid Scott
- Max – Peter Dager
- Emma – Xosha Roquemore
- Director – Xavier Manrique
- Writer – Nicholas Schutt
- Producers – Jason Dubin, Reid Scott, Nicholas Schutt, Xavier Manrique
- Executive Producers – David Frankel, Adam Paly, Jordana Brewster