The Overnight had me wondering how many times I’d been in a similar situation, or close to it, without even realizing. Couples with young children share several play dates. It’s a way to socially mingle with grown ups who also are enduing the personal hell … er, blessing that is parenthood. Having two kids under the age of 12 means I’ve had multiple play dates like the one propping up The Overnight. And just as they say in the film, as the kids play, the adults start to behave like they did before our children entered the picture. It’s just, things rarely go as far as they do in Patrick Brice’s candid, perceptive but slight comedy.
Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling) recently moved to Los Angeles from Seattle. The film opens on one of their biggest issues – they have many, all of which come to light as their day progresses. Alex can’t satisfy Emily in the bedroom. Instead of climaxing normally, they disengage and self-please themselves. It looks as strange as it sounds. There’s a reason, and oh boy, will it be revealed later in Brice’s film. But we’re not there yet. As it stands, Alex and Emily are racing to squeeze in their intimate moments in the minutes before their adolescent son wakes up. On top of that, we learn that Alex is a stay-at-home dad, and his wife’s a workaholic… yet another wedge driven between these two.
While watching their son play at the park one afternoon, though, Alex and Emily meet Kurt (Jason Schwartzman), a friendly – too friendly? – L.A. hipster who knows the neighborhood, shares info about the right schools, and basically understands how newcomers can absorb the lay of the land. He demands that they come over for dinner, and he won’t take no for an answer. The kids are getting along fine, so why not, right? Alex and Emily agree, because they want to fit in, and they want to start feeling like they belong. They have no clue where this social experiment will go.
It’s such a simple premise, but Brice keeps us invested in The Overnight by leaving his characters – primarily Adam Scott – on a dangling hook. He’s immediately uncomfortable by the type of wine that they brought, so he works to peel off the label as they approach the door of Kurt palatial home. Kurt, you should know, is the kind of Southern California mystery man who has been successful at a number of endeavors, and sounds far more interesting than any of us could when entertaining with dinner-party conversation. He has a beautiful home, and a gorgeous wife, Charlotte (Judith Godreche). Kurt’s latest whim? He has designed a water-filter treatment system, which he wants to install in Third World countries. You laugh at his characterization, but Schwartzman plays him with such a casual flair that Kurt is never an exaggeration. None of these characters are, which makes the entire evening – and the film – so relatable.
Up until a point, that is. You see, The Overnight ultimately wants to push our buttons as the night extends, to see how comfortable (or uncomfortable) we’ll remain as conversations grow more probing, and painful truths are revealed. Characters you thought you related to will take hard left turns, and you’ll start to question how much of yourself you still see in them. Do you still see any at all? So much of what is revealed beyond the set-up is what makes The Overnight a shocking, provocative and memorable trip, so I’m not going to scratch at the secrets each parent holds. I will say that I wish the movie was about something deeper than physical attraction, and our general insecurities. It’s not, so the stakes stay low. But Brice is content to strip away all pretense before the sun comes up, and there’s a good timing gag that comes full-circle that helps The Overnight stick its landing.
The Overnight would collapse internally if not for the chemistry of its four main leads. As mentioned, they play recognizable versions of people we have seen in our lives before, and a lot of us – especially those of us with kids – likely can say that we’ve been part of very similar scenarios in the past. But every party, no matter how small, often has an unspoken line where the attendees decide whether they are going to stay cordial and conservative, or they are going to let their cares fly free and make the evening truly memorable. The Overnight knows exactly where that line is. It happily steps over it. And in the final scene, you can tell by the looks on the characters’ faces as they trudge home that there’s no going back once that line has been crossed. Can they deal with that?