Everyone Needs a Pal Like Adam Pally
Feb 4, 2023
Remember 2020? The world ended, hand sanitizer became the hot new item, and not wearing a face mask felt like you were streaking in the middle of the mall. It’s not necessarily a time anyone wants to return to, and frankly, the fear and ramifications of the pandemic never fully went away. Is there an appetite for content set during such a bizarre and scary time? Even though it’s been roughly three years since the initial shock and paranoia of it all, it seems like just yesterday that we were spraying cleaning products on our produce and having panic attacks when we needed to touch a doorknob. The indie dramedy Who Invited Charlie? washes away any reservations you might have about a movie set in the COVID times and, more importantly, lets Adam Pally show us what he is capable of.
Directed by Xavier Manrique and written by Nicholas Schutt, Who Invited Charlie? is very much in line with movies like, as Manrique has described, What About Bob? and Uncle Buck. An outside force disrupts the status quo of a seemingly-content dynamic, only to have unexpected—but eventually welcome—lasting impacts on all involved. Here, that disruptor is Charlie, played beautifully by Pally, who shows up uninvited during a time when showing up somewhere unannounced was potentially life-threatening: March of 2020.
A few months earlier, Charlie quite literally bumped into Phil (Reid Scott), an old friend and college roommate of Charlie. The two seem like exact opposites, as Charlie’s bushy beard, pudgy belly, and bright red beanie are a stark contrast to Phil’s clean-cut, rigid, investment banker vibe. Charlie’s reaction to seeing Phil is like a puppy reuniting with its owner, whereas Phil comes across more like a disgruntled dad unsure of what to do with this child. At this time, it’s unclear why they lost touch, but what is clear is that Charlie tried to reconnect. In a scuffle on the street with some Santas, Phil loses his wallet, which Charlie retrieves but doesn’t give back right away. Instead, he pockets it with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, only to return at a time when no one wants to be near anyone.
Image via IMDb
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While the movie initially goes hard into COVID panic nostalgia, it quickly just becomes the story’s backdrop. Our introduction to the core family, which consists of Phil’s wife Rosie (Jordana Brewster) and their high school senior son Max (Peter Dager in his first feature film role) is coated in panic as they hastily pack their essentials from their lavish New York apartment to escape to their even more gorgeous Hamptons home. The tension the three of them usually cope with is heightened by the pandemic’s unknowns. Why is their neighbor’s mask apparatus look like he’s exploring Chernobyl? Do they even need masks? Which brave soul is going to touch the elevator button? All of that hangs over the very anxious and socially awkward Max, who’s gearing up for boarding school, and the inevitable separation anxiety that his callous and practical father never seems to understand.
Charlie’s sudden and unwanted reappearance is jarring for many reasons. For starters, it’s the middle of the night and, as the title suggests, he wasn’t invited. In fact, Phil’s wife and son don’t even know who he is. Charlie is saddled with a lot of baggage (literally and emotionally) and is the complete opposite of Phil both in temperament and appearance. Because Charlie has some dirt on Phil, Charlie is begrudgingly allowed to move in until the pandemic passes, and sets some ground rules, which hilariously teases the dysfunction to come.
Pally wastes no time in reminding us that he’s one of the wittiest and most dynamic comedic actors working, gifting us with a performance that’s both playful and shrouded in a shadow of sadness. Charlie’s always at the ready to help with any home improvement project or bestow surprisingly thoughtful life advice. His quips are partly him being carefree and unfiltered, and partly him hiding in a suit of armor. He’s the walking definition of someone who “wakes and bakes,” as that is more routine for him than starting his day with a coffee. His cobbled-together wardrobe is so comically mismatched both in pattern and style that it seems like it could only have been a conscious effort. Even though on paper Charlie might seem like a less-than-ideal house guest, Pally brings an infectious, endearing energy that subverts any stoner stereotypes.
Reid Scott’s Phil feels very much like a derivative of his self-obsessed, money-hungry Veep character Dan Egan. Phil isn’t a character we want to root for, and there’s a good chance, due to many revelations about his past with Charlie, you never will. Charlie does, however, serve as a bit of a wake-up call for his rigid friend from college, enabling Scott to show his more vulnerable side. Jordana Brewster brings a fun, sharp edge to Rosie, a character that unfortunately takes a backseat for a lot of the film. Rosie’s typically either frustrated with Phil’s physical or emotional absence or is concerned with how her son will do at boarding school. But once Charlie shows a genuine interest in how she and Phil first met, and just an interest in her in general, is when Brewster’s Rosie is able to open up. Watching the two “argue” when comparing New Jersey and the Bronx is especially sweet, considering the fact that she didn’t want Charlie in her house in the first place.
The film is at its best, however, when it focuses on the budding friendship between Charlie and Max. The high school senior is crippled with anxiety, making him the most comfortable when he’s talking to his best (and only) friend Sanjay or sitting alone in his room. Charlie’s attempts at breaking the teenager out of his shell by slinging jokes prove painfully (and hilariously) futile at first, but once Max witnesses him effortlessly charm their equally-charming neighbor Emma (played by the delightful Xosha Roquemore), he musters up the courage to talk to his father’s old friend. What’s cute is how Charlie treats Max like they, too, are old friends, playfully ribbing him for his serious disposition and cool room of a boy who is “not quite a man…but not quite a boy.”
This scene in Max’s room is the first time we really get to know both Max and Charlie. Max is fascinated by how polar opposite Charlie is from anyone he knows, and doesn’t try to hide it. He inquires about his many tattoos, to which Charlie quips, “Yeah, I got enough tattoos to be a chef, but I don’t cook.” Each tattoo pulls back the curtain on Charlie’s bumpy life, proof that he quite literally wears his heart on his sleeve. “I got that [plane tattoo] for my dad when he passed away, because he’s a pilot. Better pilot than a dad, but a pretty good pilot.” Though what he says might be sometimes laced with melancholy, he’s always sure to cap it off with a toothy smile and mindless laugh. This is the beginning of an unconventional mentorship and series of bonding moments between the two that involves coming up with a meme to impress Max’s crush, prank-calling Phil while he works, and, of course, belting out the 1995 Oasis hit “Wonderwall.” Charlie’s fascination with Max’s lack of ‘90s knowledge is a fun reminder of their big age difference. “You don’t know the ‘90s at all! You don’t know who Jewel is?”
As you might be able to tell by now, the film largely abandons its pandemic premise. We are reminded of the time period when Charlie ventures to the store or when he hesitates to pass a joint to Emma over the fence, but otherwise, the pandemic is a smart way to get these characters that would otherwise not be spending time together under one roof. Adam Pally’s performance as the buffoonish and kind house guest is a nice reminder to not take life as seriously and to appreciate the parts of yourself that might be overlooked.
This film might start by asking, “Who invited Charlie?” but by the end, Charlie will be the guest you want to hang out with—and maybe learn from—the most.
Who Invited Charlie? is in select theaters and streaming now.
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