Jordana Brewster’s Gear Shift

The Fast & Furious star explores the power of slowing down in Who Invited Charlie?, a COVID-era comedy.
Jordana Brewster co-produced Who Invited Charlie?, in which she plays a harried mother. Photograph by Scott Miller

By Julia Szabo

One highlight of this year’s Hamptons International Film Festival is the world premiere of a locally shot movie bound to resonate globally: Xavier Manrique’s Who Invited Charlie? Originally titled Charlie in the Pandemic, this endearing indie with an all-star cast (including a lovely Dylan Penn) follows one New York family of three as they navigate those unforgettable events of early 2020 in New York City. Fleeing Manhattan for the Hamptons, the trio must cope with an added stressor: the ambush appearance of a self-invited houseguest (Adam Pally as a bathrobe-clad, fridge-raiding refugee from the city).

“Shooting the kitchen scene with Adam, I kept cracking up!” admits his co-star and co-executive producer, Jordana Brewster. Playing a harried wife and mom, the Brazilian-American beauty surprises her Fast & Furious fan base by assuming a novel driving position: the passenger seat. She doesn’t take the wheel even once in this entire film—and yet, for her first producing credit, Brewster was very much in charge. “I loved the idea phase, affecting the character and script, writing notes, building the story—that was all very, very fun. It was great working with [screenwriter] Nick Schutt; we’ve known each other since we were kids.” Soon, moviegoers may expect even more behind-the-scenes input from Brewster, a Yale English major and alum of numerous screenwriting and fiction classes.

“It’s really liberating when you’re shooting an indie film and everyone does it out of love—not for the paycheck, but because they love the script so much,” she says. “There’s a different energy: Everyone wanted to make the best movie they could. The chemistry was really good, very collaborative, almost like summer camp, but in the dead of winter. We wanted to shoot before Thanksgiving, but ended up going right before Christmas—ahead of the new coronavirus strain, before everyone was about to shut down again.”

Brewster spoke with Purist just days after emerging from the honeymoon following her early September wedding. The lavish event, chronicled in Vogue, took place near the couple’s beloved part-time home base, Montecito, California, where Brewster and her new husband opted to celebrate in place with a postnuptial staycation. Home is also the location of Who Invited Charlie?, which has shades of Boudu Saved from Drowning, Jean Renoir’s cynical 1932 satire that’s the basis of Down and Out in Beverly Hills. In a life-affirming twist on the darkly comic tale, writer Schutt has Charlie the disrupter turn out to be way more than a bloated burden: He becomes a benevolent mentor figure for the entire family.

Charlie manages to extract upbeat comedy from its premise: The movie family, headed for a smashup, rediscovers meaningful togetherness by sheltering in place with an imperfect stranger. “It’s sad that it takes something horrific like a pandemic to slow us down,” says Brewster, 42, who shifts with ease between comedy and heartache. Mindful of the health benefits of slowing down, Brewster makes room for meditation and “me time” in her busy schedule as mom to two young boys.

“Our location was extra special,” Brewster recalls of the four-week shoot in Manhattan and Wainscott. “Here we were, filming on the baseball field where I used to play every Sunday, and on the beach where we had Monday-night picnics. It felt like coming full circle. The pandemic forced a lot of us to reassess what was happening in our lives,” she concludes. “Is this the way I want to be living? Hopefully this film is a sweet reminder: ‘Hey, let’s not forget what we learned while going through all that. Let’s not lose what we gained by slowing down.’”
Who Invited Charlie? screens at the Hamptons International Film Festival; see hamptonsfilmfest.orgfor screening times.