Downtown Owl – Tribeca 2023

Henry Golding and Lily Rabe in Downtown Owl. Courtesy of Tribeca.

Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater adapt Chuck Klosterman’s Reagan-era 1980s dark comedy, Downtown Owl, for the screen.

The film, like Klosterman’s novel, takes place in a fictional North Dakota town. Funny enough, the Minneapolis area stands in for North Dakota in the adaptation. Anyway, the film takes place in 1984 just as a blizzard is about to hit the area. English teacher Julia Rabia (Lily Rabe) is one of Owl’s newest residents, having moved from Milwaukee. Talk about timing although the lakefront in Wisconsin can be just as bad for winter weather. Anyway, she’s the type that throws herself into her new town and getting to know people. She’s going to be in their lives whether they want her there or not. Among those that she gets to know are retired farmer Horace (Ed Harris), bison farmer Vance (Henry Golding), and backup quarterback Mitch (August Blanco Rosenstein). At the end of the day, Downtown Owl is about a woman finding her place.

I have not read Klosterman’s book so I don’t know how the film compares in its translation to the screen. Klosterman fans will probably have a better idea in that regard. My understanding is that the book is not the easiest source material to adapt. Similarly, I  also cannot tell you whether or not the book is better. We all know how that debate goes. Anyway, the film walks the fine line between comedy and drama.

I watched a press screener, which can sometimes make it challenging when it comes to comedies. While I would have preferred to see it on the big screen during Tribeca, I couldn’t fit a screening into my schedule. The thing about comedies–even dark comedies–is that they’re meant to be shared with a communal audience. Home viewing just isn’t the same. In any event, Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater do a solid job with their direction. They don’t have a huge blockbuster budget to create a massive blizzard and that’s fine. All that matters is that the audience knows what’s about to happen.

Lily Rabe has been associated with Downtown Owl ever since the audiobook’s release in 2008. In a way, it makes since to see her involvement with the film in front and behind the camera. Time has a funny way of working out but Klosterman’s novel is finally seeing the screen. G-d only knows how many presidential administrations have come and gone since the initial publication.

Downtown Owl won’t be for everyone although fans of Chuck Klosterman might be among the viewers that are the most curious to check it out.

DIRECTORS: Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater
SCREENWRITERS: Hamish Linklater
CAST: Lily Rabe, Ed Harris, Vanessa Hudgens, August Blanco Rosenstein, Jack Dylan Grazer, Arianna Jaffier, Finn Wittrock, and Henry Golding

Downtown Owl held its world premiere during the 2023 Tribeca Festival in the Spotlight Narrative section. Grade: 3/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.