The Nightowls of Coventry, a well-meaning but fatally abbreviated, sketchily-drawn indie effort from 2004, unfortunately doesn't have a whole lot going for it other than good intentions. Coming in at a crisp seventy-five minutes, The Nightowls of Coventry wants to tell a good story about a clash of cultures, and a period of immense change for a local immigrant neighborhood, and a familiar story of misfits who find themselves acting like family to each other when times are tough. The Nightowls of Coventry wants to tell all of that; but its limited means and truncated vision merely notecard these big themes, and leaves the audience feeling distinctly unsatisfied.
Set in the rapidly changing Jewish immigrant neighborhood of Coventry in 1973's Cleveland, Ohio, The Nightowls of Coventry centers around Marv's Diner, owned and operated by Marv (Seymour Horowitz), a schemer who gambles what little money he has, and plays fast and loose with the hired female help. Distinctly run-down and seedy, the diner plays host to a diverse group of patrons. The Jewish old-timers, who have been regulars at the diner for years, are Morty (Bernard Canepari), who constantly regales his friends with old tales of his sexual conquests; Yosha (Leon Holster), a concentration camp survivor who eats constantly, and Benny (Allan Pinsker), the "mensch" who used to be an illustrator and who now acts as the conscience of the diner. Invading this traditional neighborhood are the hippies, represented by Doug (Paddy Connor) and Dee (Neal Minahan), who never have a dime to pay for their food. Later in the film, a biker gang becomes regulars of the diner (because now Marv has to stay open 24 hours to stave off bankruptcy).
Into this situation comes sweet, naive Susan (Donna Casey), a college student new to Cleveland who takes a waitressing job at Marv's. This doesn't sit well with Grace (Annie Kitral), the older head waitress who's having an affair with the married Marv. Susan, despite the warnings by the kindly Benny to be careful, goes on a date with hippie/guru Jim Morrison-wannabe Tommy (Kevin Horne), but things go really wrong when her roommate Faith (Trishalana Kopaitich) skips town - leaving Susan with no place to stay. The oldest cliche in the book -- an approaching thunderstorm -- provides the backdrop for the night when everyone's troubles arrive at critical mass, and the regulars down at Marv's recognize each other as family.
There might be a successful movie somewhere in The Nightowls of Coventry, but whether through budgetary shortcomings or just a failure on the part of screenwriter/director Laura Paglin to fully flesh out her ideas, the film just isn't substantial enough to rise above a fairly competent student film effort. The big themes are there, but they're only hinted at, teased at, suggested in The Nightowls of Coventry; there isn't any meat on their bones. The actors appear to be able to handle more, but there just isn't anything for them to do in the skimpy screenplay but enact cute (and maybe they're just a tad too cute for words) characters who represent "ideas," rather than real people. It's interesting to learn that The Nightowls of Coventry was first conceived as a documentary; evidently, the director had collected quite a few taped conversations with residents of the area, before deciding on doing a feature film. Seeing the tame, tepid results of The Nightowls of Coventry, I would have preferred to see the documentary.
The widescreen, 1.78 video image for The Nightowls of Coventry looks just okay; expect a slight video blur anytime anybody moves. Pixilation in some of the darker scenes was evident, as well. The soft picture doesn't hold up on a big screen.
The English 2.0 stereo mix is poor, with dialogue frequently mushy. Close-captioning might have helped -- if there had been any.
There are a few deleted scenes included in this DVD edition of The Nightowls of Coventry; they're rough video, and entirely disposable. There's a trailer for the film; a still gallery; text bios for the crew and some of the cast, a short Sundance Channel: 24 Frame News segment on the film; and a largely irrelevant five minute interview with Harvey Pekar, who did the artwork for the poster.
There's certainly the germ of a good, if familiar, idea in The Nightowls of Coventry, but the truncated, stilted, pedestrian screenplay pretty much scotches that promise. The cast is good, though; too bad they're stuck with cutesie-pie characters you never believe are real. The Nightowls of Coventry would probably get an "A" in film class, but you can safely skip it.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.