Film Review – The Overnight
Meeting new people is always an awkward experience. You never really know what to say outside of what you do for a living or your feelings about the weather. The “getting to know you” phase is always bumpy regardless if the people you meet will be lifelong friends or just quick acquaintances. The characters of Patrick Brice’s The Overnight (2015) bumble through this stage in such uncomfortable tension that we wonder how they managed to end up in the same room together. Written and directed by Brice, what we have is a story of two couples attempting to get to know one another, and end up revealing themselves in ways they never thought they would.
Alex (Adam Scott), Emily (Taylor Schilling) and their son R.J. (R.J. Hermes) have just moved to Los Angeles from Seattle. Emily is the provider of the family while Alex spends his time as a stay at home dad. Both Alex and Emily seem like well adjusted adults, although their marriage has hit a bit of a bland patch. An early opening scene shows how they have to “compensate” when it comes to sexual satisfaction. The scene sets the tone: this is a sex comedy unlike a lot of what we’ve seen before. The escapades the characters go through are much more eccentric and weird than what you would get from American Pie (1999).
With the way their lives are set, Alex and Emily find it difficult to meet new people in the city. That is, until they meet Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) one day in the neighborhood park. Almost immediately, there is something strange but oddly fascinating about Kurt. The way he’s dressed, his overly friendly demeanor, the way he insists that they come over for dinner – there’s a quality slightly off center about this person. But Alex and Emily (perhaps against better judgment) decide to accept Kurt’s invitation and come to his home.
Almost as soon as they step inside, things get more bizarre by the minute. Kurt lives in a lavish mansion with his French wife Charlotte (Judith Godreche) and their son Max (Max Moritt). The house is too big for a family so small, but as the night progresses, Alex and Emily find that these people are not your everyday neighbors. Kurt claims to have made a fortune from inventing a water filtration system, and does photography and painting on the side (he only paints one thing: a specific human body part which I will not describe). Kurt and Charlotte plan to travel and do philanthropic work in other countries, which would explain why they’re teaching their son multiple languages at the same time.
If this were any other situation, Kurt and Charlotte would be unbearable to get along with. But for some unspoken reason, Alex and Emily are drawn to them. When R.J. and Max are put to bed, and alcohol and marijuana are brought into the mix, things start getting a little interesting.
Brice’s screenplay develops the underlying tension between the two couples at a slow pace. Early on, we’re not made aware why Kurt and Charlotte are so friendly with Alex and Emily. Are they swingers? Serial killers? Or are they just really odd but friendly people wanting to meet others? Schwartzman and Godreche fill their roles with grounded believability even though their characters are so out there. Schwartzman particularly looks lived in as Kurt. His overly accomplished nature calls to mind his work as Max Fischer in Rushmore (1998).
Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling are good as the straight couple. Especially Schilling, whose reactions get more concerned as things start to escalate. When we step back, we see that the set up is used as a means to examine Alex and Emily’s relationship and why it’s become so stagnant. Brice weaves in their dynamic into the goings on of the dinner party, although when all is said and done, not much is revealed. When it comes to love and marriage, the build up doesn’t really lead to anything substantial. It’s a funny journey these people go through, for sure, but it’s a journey that ends on a punch line rather than some deeper emotional revelation.
I use the word “tension” a lot in this review because that’s exactly what Brice injects into the tone. Will this end in one big sexual experience for all four characters? Brice handles this question somewhat unevenly. Through most of the night, the underlying pressure between the characters is done subtly, until a scene of over the top sexuality comes and blindsides us. Two moments in particular – one involving a video and the other having Emily and Charlotte skip out of the house for a few minutes – felt shoehorned in. These moments broke the “spell” that was weaving itself around the characters.
For the most part, The Overnight works. The acting is solid by all the participants, and Brice’s direction is economical to the writing, never calling attention to itself. It’s too bad that it ended on a thud rather than a bang. I’ll let you fill in the jokes accordingly.
Also, be sure to check out our interview with Patrick Brice.