Consider the plight of Idris Elba. For the last few years, the British superstar has talked publicly about wanting to do more comedy roles (“I never play anybody that makes anyone laugh,” he lamented in 2016). But the poor man has been burdened with an almost unspeakable amount of sex appeal, which in the movie and TV industry is seen as mutually exclusive to “ha-ha funny.” Undaunted, Elba has started creating comedic roles for himself. His latest — Netflix’s Turn Up Charlie (premiering March 15) — is an upbeat endeavor that combines Elba with the concept of full-time childcare. I tell you, dear reader, it was almost too much for my working-mom heart to take.
Elba stars as Charlie, a struggling DJ who was a “massive deal” for one summer many years ago, but now he scrapes together a living doing ‘90s theme nights at half-empty clubs. When his childhood best mate-turned-A-list movie star David (JJ Feild) moves back to London with his “world-class DJ” wife Sara (Piper Perabo), Charlie ends up minding their 11-year-old daughter Gabby (Frankie Hervey) for an afternoon. Gabby is a brilliant pre-teen terror who drives every babysitter away in tears, but she tolerates Charlie and… well, you can see where this is going.
As a vehicle for Elba-as-funny-guy, Turn Up Charlie does its job: The actor successfully sheds his suave persona to embody the titular DJ, an analog hustler in an increasingly digital world. Elba brings a corny charm to his scenes with Hervey, whether Charlie’s giving Gabby a much-needed talking-to (“Your parents aren’t there for you… You can either be bitter about it and be a brat, or you can make the best of it”), or teasing her with a fist-bump fake-out. The other story lines — Sara and David’s rocky marriage, Charlie’s romance with Sara’s manager Astrid (Angela Griffin) — are the definition of slight, but Elba has a natural, easy chemistry with his grown-up costars as well. Would Turn Up Charlie be better suited as a 90-minute movie made when Elba was about three years less famous than he is today? Probably — but the incongruity of the whole thing, watching the Sexiest Man Alive whisper-bicker with a curly-haired moppet, is part of Turn Up Charlie’s appeal. And to be honest, I’d probably see that movie. In the theater. B