The Buñuelian meets the Duplassian in The Overnight, a chamber comedy of social and sexual manners from director Patrick Brice (2014’s Creep). In its exploration of sexual tension when one couple’s faced with a more “enlightened” one in a Los Angeles setting, savvy viewers might draw a link to 1969’s Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, though Brice (also behind The Overnight’s screenplay) brings in enough contemporary concerns to prevent his film coming across like a decades-later echo of the earlier one.
Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling) have moved to Los Angeles from Seattle with their toddler son and are looking to make friends. A local playground seems to bring that opportunity when Kurt (Jason Schwartzman), a mysterious but nonetheless charismatic fellow parent, approaches them and invites them round for dinner, so that both they and their children can bond. Alex and Emily arrive that night at what turns out to be a mansion, where they are greeted by Kurt’s French wife, Charlotte (Judith Godrèche).
Alex and Emily are insecure in general (see an opening sex scene for an immediate example), and the lives of this aggressively hip, attractive couple serve to both fuel their insecurities but also stimulate their desire to expand their horizons. As most party-centred films tend to do, this night goes in some wild directions, including but not limited to skinny-dipping, breast-pump instruction videos, prosthetic phalluses, and the painting of anuses. There are some very broad, goofy comic setpieces here, but they work because Brice never loses sight of the characters’ emotional crises and anxieties within them.
What could (and initially seems to be) a caricature collection of squares and (seemingly) swinger-types is given actual nuances over the film’s tight, 79-minute runtime, thanks to its four excellent leads’ complete commitment to the night of revelry that sees each of their characters pulled in all sorts of directions outside of their respective comfort zones. (Yes, even the one who paints people’s buttholes.) Scott is particularly strong as Alex, a man whose attempts to bolster his sense of his own masculinity sees him caught in a literal dick-swinging contest.
Despite flirting with some greater depths regarding marital woes, The Overnight ultimately works better as just a solid comedy with a proclivity for the bizarre; Alex & Emily & Kurt & Charlotte are no Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice when it comes to the film pushing any boundaries. And that’s perfectly okay. What The Overnight lacks in profundity it makes up for in its successful balancing of the outrageous and the sincere (despite the obvious conclusion) while still throwing in enough surprising touches and twists to keep you on your toes.
Josh Slater-Williams (@jslaterwilliams) is a freelance writer based in England. Alongside writing for Vague Visages, he is currently a contributing editor at PopOptiq, a writer for VODzilla.co, and a regular contributor to independent British magazine The Skinny.