An overnight "family playdate" becomes increasingly awkward and sexual as the night unfolds.
It can become harder to develop friendships as you grow older. For Emily and Alex, who recently moved from Seattle to Los Angeles with their young son R.J., they’re worried about their ability to make those new connections in an unfamiliar neighborhood. But when R.J. starts to play with another boy at the park, Emily and Alex are introduced to the boy’s enigmatic father, Kurt (Jason Schwartzman). The sleekly dressed, seemingly clichéd Angeleno opens with a joke about his son’s vegan diet before kindly offering recommendations of the best local shops and restaurants.
Kurt can’t resist himself though, there’s so much more to share, so he invites the newly relocated couple over for dinner that night with him and his wife. Emily (Orange Is The New Black’s Taylor Schilling) argues worst-case scenario is they’ll go home after a boring night and Alex (Adam Scott) worries the bottle of Two Buck Chuck they brought with them isn’t fancy enough; however, neither expects their overnight family playdate will test the couple’s openness, and the strength of Emily and Alex’s marital bond.
At the onset of The Overnight, Emily and Alex guide each other through their morning sex. They accommodate one another and exchange helpful instructions, but seem to have made “self-completion” a ritualistic finish. They’re a cooperative couple, even if they’re not perfectly compatible. Their collective anxiety is largely embodied by Adam Scott’s performance as Alex. Shades of Scott’s Parks and Recreation persona manifesting itself in Alex’s neurosis, particularly the character’s habit of impulsively lying in response to questions in order to respond “the right way.” Yes of course he paints with acrylics, who wouldn’t?
Alex is constantly on the back foot in Kurt’s house. Kurt comes on very strong, and from almost the moment that Emily and Alex arrive at Kurt’s house they’re deluged by his conversation. The Spanish lessons Kurt gives his kindergarten-aged son, the water filtration business he’s installing in third world countries, his pompous pronunciation of, “the South of France,” (as if France is pronounced with an ‘aw’). It’s a flood of superfluous character building that takes too long to work through, even with a helping of chuckle-worthy line readings.
For most of The Overnight (which only runs 80 minutes long) we’re waiting for the movie to get to its point. The dynamics of the “family playdate” become increasingly bizarre, but when the alcohol begins to work as a conversational lubricant (as it’s wont to do) the couples’ conversation starts to explore ideas of openness and honesty. Most of the talk steers sexual and you wonder when someone will finally say the word, “swinger,” but there exists a frank and humorous honesty in the characters’ words. When a vulnerable Alex admits to his size-related body issues, it’s uncomfortably funny but oddly touching, seeing new friends bond through understanding.
Taylor Schilling’s Emily appears to be the more self-assured half of the primary pairing. She’s the primary breadwinner for the family and retains more self-control once the adults have worked their way through a couple bottles of red wine. She’s not the butt of nearly as many jokes as her fictional husband, but Taylor Schilling gives Emily a cool, loving energy that makes her performance fun to watch while maintaining a complexity to her character. The Overnight makes it clear that Emily and Alex are very understanding to each other, and refreshingly, they take the time to consult one another throughout the film. The dilemmas here don’t emerge from clichéd bickering, they stem from the complications of a strong couple that are open to each other’s desires.
The instigator for most of the film’s hijinks is Schwartzman’s Kurt, and the potential to enjoy the comedy relies largely on his performance (as well as a tolerance for penis humor). The talkative character Kurt proceeds through the night brazenly dictating the couples’ agenda. It can be hilarious, as he is when confidently strutting naked around the pool, but other times it registers as awkward and unmotivated, like when he shows Emily and Alex a mildly pornographic movie of his wife Charlotte (Judith Godrèche). Schwartzman has an ability to remain charming even as an irritating character, and for the most part, Kurt is mysterious enough to stay intriguing.
The wild night created by The Overnight’s writer/director Patrick Brice (director of SXSW film Creep, also produced by the Duplass Brothers) does uniquely capture the contagious nature of a fun night around people you love. Even as his film plays dumb with its premise a little too much, it’s forgivable within the context of the intoxicating night Emily and Alex share with Charlotte and Kurt. They’re having too much fun exploring their boundaries honestly, and it’s usually entertaining enough to keep watching them.
The Overnight could easily be faulted for its couple of questionable turns, the directness with which the ending lays all the cards out on the table, or the film’s liberal use of prosthetic penises (which might have been the centerpiece in an Apatow or McKay comedy, so kudos to The Overnight). The movie mostly makes up for it by developing a compelling situation, and facilitating charismatic performances from Scott, Schilling and Schwartzman. The Overnight is a sexually adventurous, occasionally uncomfortable comedy with an outrageous ending, but one that feels like the proper result of its story.
A version of this review first appeared as part of our Tribeca 2015 coverage.