Movie Review: “The Overnight”

Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling, Jason Schwartzman, Judith Godrèche
Patrick Brice

The early hype surrounding writer/director Patrick Brice’s “The Overnight” has it pegged as one of the funniest films of the year. But unfortunately for the Sundance favorite, which garnered rave reviews on the festival circuit before becoming the subject of a late-night bidding war in Park City, it’s a victim of its own exaggerated buzz. This has been a recurring theme in a number of my reviews lately, and it’s not so much the movie’s fault as those responsible for overselling it, because even though “The Overnight” features a promising premise and solid work from its lead quartet, it falls well short of the acclaim that it’s received. The film isn’t even that funny, relying on a series of uncomfortable situations that drive the underlying drama more than the comedy.

Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling) are a young, sexually frustrated married couple that has recently moved from Seattle to Los Angeles for Emily’s career. Alex has graciously agreed to stay at home to raise their son, RJ, but the complete lack of a social life has made it difficult to find new friends. When their family attends a birthday party in the park one afternoon, RJ begins playing with a similarly-aged boy named Max, which leads to an introduction to the boy’s father, Kurt (Jason Schwartzman), who invites Alex, Emily and RJ over to his house for dinner to meet his beautiful French wife, Charlotte (Judith Godrèche), and welcome them to the neighborhood. The two couples immediately hit it off, but what starts out as a fun get-together becomes increasingly more bizarre as the night goes on, causing Alex and Emily to question their hosts’ true intentions.

Like most movies in the mumblecore movement, “The Overnight” is greatly dependent on the cast’s ability to propel the story in interesting directions. Though it feels more scripted than the typical mumblecore fare, that style of naturalistic, in-the-moment intimacy that the genre thrives on doesn’t always work in its favor. All four actors are good in their respective roles – especially Schilling as the prudish straight man tip-toeing her way through the night’s events and Schwartzman as the kind yet falsely modest hipster – but none of them are given very complex character arcs. Part of that is due to the short 80-minute runtime, although it’s hard to imagine it being any longer, because the wafer-thin story has already been stretched to its limit. Too much time is spent on certain subplots, while others are never fully explored. In the end, the film is far more interested in how the characters’ various issues are tied to their sexual lives when the class divide between the two couples would have made for a more engaging and funnier movie.

It’s more than just plain sex, though. “The Overnight” has this weird fascination with male genitalia that encompasses much of the second act, with both Scott and Schwartzman donning ridiculously fake prosthetic penises. The NSFW props were a big talking point at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, but they never amount to more than a bit of juvenile humor. And that’s the film’s biggest problem, because while “The Overnight” doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable moments, it’s never as funny or awkward as it could be, existing in some strange middle area that doesn’t push enough boundaries or say anything of actual substance to be truly memorable. The movie has its share of laughs, like when Alex tries to justify the escalating weirdness by suggesting that all dinner parties in California must be like this, but it’s mostly a missed opportunity to create an intelligent sex comedy about relationships in the 21st century.