Published on July 2nd, 2015 | by Josh Glenn0
The Overnight – Review
Despite featuring not one but two prosthetic penises, a recurring joke about a disturbing niche in the porn industry and two sublimely awkward book-ending sex scenes, Patrick Brice’s The Overnight is deceptively incisive about our attitudes towards carnal relations. Opening mid-coitus, we are introduced to Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling) as a couple who may indeed love each other, but who have some deep-rooted, erm, penetration problems. It’s an issue that’s pretty low on their list, though, due to their recent upheaval to LA. During a perfunctory presence at a child’s birthday party, the couple happen upon Kurt (Jason Schwartzman): a would-be bohemian who is all-too-eager to welcome them to the city. Before they know it, they’ve been invited to his French-style abode to wine and dine with him and his wife Charlotte (Judith Godrèche) while their kids play. Their hospitality twists and turns in unexpected and unpredictable directions, though, once the children are put to bed…
On the face of it, The Overnight resembles a bawdy sex comedy with mumblecore trappings. There’s crudity aplenty, from scatological offerings to sight gags, and some provocative sexual candidness that seeks to inspire discomfort as much as guffaws. While not everything hits its target all of the time, the vast majority is at the very least amusing, with substantial amounts provoking outright belly laughs. All of this is played by the admirably game four-way, who commit outright to the conceit and wring substantial laughs from alternating between playing it straight and cutting loose.
A canny move on Brice’s part is to temper the more outrageous whims with an infectiously easy-going vibe. It’s not incredibly sophisticated visually, but there’s a certain looseness that makes the harder-R elements infinitely more palatable than in the rigid studio-lot aesthetic of its mainstream counterparts. This is very much a response to the performances of all four leads, but particularly those of career straight-man Scott and brilliantly deadpan Schilling. From the off they establish a great lived-in chemistry, anchoring the film in the reality of their characters and crucially making their subsequent decisions wholly understandable. More difficult is the task afforded to Scwartzman and Godrèche, who have to offer an outlandish flip-side to the other couple but not end up so cartoony as to undermine the entire ordeal. That they imbue their caricatures with humanity is one thing; that they make Kurt and Charlotte so goddamn appealing that you’re right there with Alex and Emily is a movie-making other. Together, they make for such dynamite company that The Overnight would be easy to recommend even if it were otherwise free of virtue.
Luckily, as I suggested previously, there’s precision amidst the provocation. The effortless comfort in which the Californian stalwarts ostensibly hold themselves brings the visiting couple’s underlying sexual tension to the fore, inspiring a frank and surprisingly mature exploration of sexual inhibitions and boundaries (part of which, admittedly, involves the aforementioned prostheses). It’s an exploration in so far as stepping out of your front door and looking down your street from you front lawn is, but it nonetheless hones in on rarely uttered home truths and ends up being surprisingly touching in its sensitivity to the neuroses that hold us back. Brice’s cast, riding a wave of superbly mounted comedic tension, sell the final moments so completely that it becomes genuinely difficult to predict just how far it will all go. It’s a rare comedy to trade empty shock for exciting unpredictability, and it is in its climax (ahem) that it fulfills its mandate of thrusting its characters – and, by extension, us – well out of their comfort zones. The result is thrilling, hilarious, and surprisingly affirming.
The Overnight as a whole finds an apt proxy in the art displayed in Kurt’s studio: it may be a picture of an anus, but it’s certainly an artfully rendered one.