Less frisky than it leads on, but more explicit than you’d expect, The Overnight, a short-circuited suburban comedy, offers an unpredictable excursion into latent marital and sexual anxieties. At least, those are the broad themes director Patrick Brice brings to some previously mined territory, most notably 1969’s “Bob & Carol &Ted & Alice,” about two couples who eventually snuggle together in the same bed. Nearly fifty years later, and past a few sexual revolutions, the guidelines for that similar finish line couldn’t be more ambiguous or more fun to watch unfold.
Those supplying some of that entertainment include Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling), Seattle transplants recently settling into a middle-class Los Angeles neighborhood with their young son RJ. At a local playground they meet Kurt (Jason Schwartzman), who offers them a welcoming invitation for dinner at his home after he notices both of their sons getting along. This yields a hesitant acceptance. Alex is a stay-at-home dad who’s been fretting about making new friends. But what’s a friendly dinner invite? At worst, they’ve wasted a few hours and have stolen a free meal, they figure.
Of course, one of the pleasures of this movie is that you’re already aware of their incoming fate. You can see the edge of the rollercoaster Alex and Emily are ascending before they can. Kurt and his French model wife, Charlotte (Judith Godrèche), begin dinner innocently enough, but an extra helping of wine and a few bong hits later turns the party into something more playfully precarious. Soon, Charlotte is showing off a titillating breast pumping video and Kurt is giving tours of his art studio that features specific anatomical paintings. Skinny-dipping in their backyard pool devolves into a full frontal display of prosthetic penises, which Alex uses to conquer his diminished masculinity beside Kurt’s intimidating package.
“Maybe this is what dinner parties are like,” Alex tries to calm Emily’s reluctance to some of these comically casual erotic introductions. That reasoning gets dismissed when Charlotte takes Emily on a booze run that turns into a knotty (as in naughty) deviation. It’s one of the few visually enhanced scenes – a creepy room brightened with neon red lighting — that Brice offers his film, which toggles between pairing and separating the couples, toying with each one’s drunken, drugged-out flirtations.
Mark Duplass, who starred in Brice’s feature debut Creep, is an executive producer here and you feel his presence in the film’s quieter moments of contemplation and negotiation. There’s a resemblance to last year’s The One I Love in the way Alex and Emily use their tripping and experimenting as the foundation for marital insight. This isn’t a particularly interesting couple – there’s little backstory of their college romance or daily lives – but Scott and Schilling are good enough to imply their attraction, and just as equally their wounded, more vulnerable selves, battling through trust issues in the blissed-out daze they’ve inherited.
A longer, likely better, movie might have explored more of that, extended the overnight into a weekend and detailed the aftershocks of an exposed and exploited 12 hours. That would have given less time to Schwartzman, though, who provides another slinky, silly performance as a pseudo-intellectual, stealing most of the laughs, skipping without pants and describing one of his hobbies as desalinating water. He props up the film with its zany qualities but also helps funnel them into a believable, winking culmination. It’s a different kind of happy ending.
– Jake Kring-Schreifels