Note: this review is featured on the Phoenix Film Festival’s website.
Few films have surprised me as much as The Overnight. It’s clearly an inventive film with a simple premise: a family “playdate” turns decidedly dirty and confusing as the insecurities of married couples come to the surface. Writer-director Patrick Brice understands his story and lets it settle into its mumblecore trappings, hovering around simple characters and slow-moving dialogue that creates awkward tension more than anything else. His characters, played with great commitment by the four leads, find a good rhythm in their ever-changing dynamics. The story feels like a mixture of ’80s sex comedies and the latest creations by the Duplass brothers, using both gross-out laughs and subdued jokes as a form of unleashing subtle social criticism on masculinity. It’s a strange dichotomy that never really meshes with the overall tone of the film but makes the film a constant pool of unpredictability. I can’t personally say I found much of The Overnight exciting, but I was always enthralled and found the final half hour much stronger than its meandering middle act.
The film focuses on young couple Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling), who have recently moved to a new Los Angeles neighborhood and continue to adjust to the city. Their daughter, RJ (R.J. Hermes), finds a new playmate on the neighborhood playground in Max (Max Moritt). This leads to the couple meeting a confident, wealthy couple that lives in a nearby mansion. Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) is a self-made entrepreneur and painter and Charlotte (Judith Godreche) is an actress that has her own peculiar interests. Alex and Emily, realizing that they don’t have any friends in their new city and want to get out of their domesticated life, agree to a “playdate” one night at Kurt and Charlotte’s place. The kids like each other so they end up playing in their room for the entire night, leaving the adults to drink and learn more about each other. Oh, do they certainly do that. Kurt and Charlotte have eclectic traits that certainly confirm Kurt’s talk early in the film regarding him being the big guy in the neighborhood. That’s true in more ways than one.
There’s plenty of funny moments in Patrick Brice’s film, which should be enough for most audiences to enjoy the adventure. But it’s a challenging film in its middle act, walking a fine line between commentary on modern masculinity and gross-out frat gags. It’s a weird tone that never really establishes itself comfortably. I suppose that’s intentional, but as a viewer it makes the film feel narratively uncertain. Brice is a talented writer, though, and he has plenty of promise; I’m sure his horror film Creep, which should be opening later this year, will expand upon his ability to craft tension out of simple framing and dialogue. He’s not a filmmaker that hides his themes and is most definitely not afraid to show it anything and everything with his cast. Schwartzman and Scott certainly show it all, and they’re great in their demanding roles. They’ve never been better. Yet the film just left me a bit underwhelmed, without enough character payoff despite ending on a pretty funny gag. The Overnight is uncomfortable, confident, strange, but never more than a slight comedy with limited bite.
Grade: ★★★ (out of 5)