Silver Screen: The Overnight ***1/2
Two married couples get together for an introductory dinner party that takes a strange turn as the evening wears on in The Overnight, a kinky, clever comedy from writer/director Patrick Brice. You might even say the dinner party takes a shocking turn, but that would depend on what it takes to shock you. It’s these exact notions of prudence and prurience that Brice sets out to explore, but the boundary probing is gentle and good-humored. Brice wags a lot of things in his audience’s faces, but never a finger.
Emily (Taylor Schilling) and Alex (Adam Scott) are recent transplants from Seattle to Los Angeles. They know no one in the city, which is especially confining for stay-at-home dad Alex. One day at the playground, his son befriends another boy whose genial hipster father Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) declares himself the de facto mayor of the neighborhood and insists they come over for dinner.
But for a few scenes, all the action takes place at the lavish house Kurt shares with his beautiful French wife Charlotte (Judith Godreche). There the couples eat pizza, drink wine, and eventually put their kids to bed before adjourning to the pool. Booze and pot help loosen the conversation, which leads each of the men to share respective secrets that have largely defined their interactions not just with each other but their spouses.
It’d be a shame to spill the beans on those particular secrets— a big part of The Overnight’s fun is the slightly awkward escalation of the scenario, the moment when the truth breaks free. The revelations aren’t particularly strange, but Brice manages to tackle a couple of topics that are probably more prevalent than you think.
Schwartzman’s outsized performance— both figuratively and literally— defines the movie’s ebullient energy. Kurt is one of those too-motivated millennial types who seems to have a wryly iconoclastic opinion about everything and a broad set of interests unencumbered by traditional thinking: He plays keyboards, designs houses, creates water-filtration systems for underdeveloped nations. He affects the wisdom of the ages despite being an age too young for real wisdom. He’s reminiscent of Adam Driver’s self-absorbed post-bohemian Brooklynite seen earlier this year in Noah Baumbach’s excellent While We’re Young, except Schwartzman is a warmer performer and Alex is far more genuine.
Still, Emily remains suspicious. She’s the keen-eyed skeptic, although given to primness. Alex is entirely beguiled and wants to expand his horizons, even if it means forcing his wife to go along with him in the process. In a sense, the couple represents differing reactions in a kind of Rorschach test, with Kurt serving as the ambiguous symbol they’re trying to decipher.
But Brice doesn’t turn Kurt into a plot device, nor consign Charlotte to the role of his plus-one. Their characters are developed almost on the sly, as the focus remains on Alex and Emily, who are, if not more believable, at least more relatable.
The Overnight overstates its case a bit, particularly in an ill-advised sojourn to a luridly lit massage parlor, and the ending is a bit more copout than punchline. Regardless, Schwartzman’s energy is infectious, and Schilling and Scott— both well-established small-screen comic actors— have ace timing. Only Godreche never gets a chance to be funny, although in the end she remains The Overnight’s most intriguing mystery.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.