Based on its title and premise alone, you’d be forgiven for assuming that writer/director Aimee Graham’s The Allnighter was one of those madcap, up-all-night dark comedies perhaps best exemplified by Martin Scorsese’s After Hours.
To wit: you’ve got your hapless protagonist, a brainy graduate student named Terence (Owen Beckman) who’s on the brink of earning his Ph.D. in astrophysics. You’ve also got a spunky female “wild child,” Belle (Gretchen Lodge), who hangs out in jazz clubs and works the counter at a pawn shop. And, to top it off, you’ve got an inciting incident that feels like a perfect catalyst for sending this opposites-attract pair careening through a series of surreal wee-hours adventures: Terence’s laptop, containing the only copy of his potentially game-changing research on the formation of galaxies, is stolen, along with his car.
“…his potentially game-changing research on the formation of galaxies, is stolen, along with his car.”
Despite all that, once The Allnighter gets going, it’s pretty clear that paying off that setup in such an obvious way was never part of Graham’s game plan at all. What develops doesn’t end up taking place over one night, nor is it particularly dark or madcap – even with a cast of colorful supporting characters in play and poor Terence’s academic prospects in desperate peril. Instead, what materializes over the film’s tight, 77-minute running time is something more akin to an abbreviated Cameron Crowe coming-home/coming-of-age story. No surreal wee-hours caper movie, Graham’s film is instead an earnest comedy/drama about growing into adulthood, contending with the past, and finding genuine friendship in the most unlikely of situations.
Perhaps Graham’s most refreshing choice is to avoid turning Terence and Belle into, respectively, the socially awkward brainiac and Manic Pixie Dream Girl (hat tip to the legendary Nathan Rabin) that they easily could become. Terence, fueled by energy drinks and driven by genuine scientific curiosity, isn’t just a standard-issue movie nerd, as he’s got both perspective and a welcome streak of assertiveness. Beckman plays him not so much as a withdrawn eccentric but rather as a gifted, sympathetically put-upon guy who’s just trying to juggle all the assorted crap that life seems to keep placing in his path.
"…something more akin to an abbreviated Cameron Crowe coming-home/coming-of-age story."