Making new friends isn’t easy when you’re grown-up and married. It’s that kind of anxiety first felt by the leads in Patrick Brice’s sophomore feature, The Overnight, a dizzying, debauched, excruciatingly funny film about knitting new connections through discomfort. Brice has made the trend-forward sprawl of suburban Los Angeles his backdrop, and his story begins as one of displacement: Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling), freshly uprooted from Seattle, are strangers in a strange, meticulously chichi world, and they’re in desperate need of guiding companionship. They’re also parents, but Brice disabuses us of the notion that children are social hindrances by positioning Alex’s and Emily’s son, RJ (RJ Hermes), as social lubricant.
After presenting its preamble, The Overnight introduces our yuppie heroes to Kurt (Jason Schwartzman), a man so painfully hip that he might as well be the mayor of the entire damn burg. Their chance encounter occurs at a playground, where RJ hits it off with Kurt’s precocious spawn, Max (Max Moritz), which for Kurt is proof enough that Alex and Emily are decent people. Without hesitation, he invites them to his humble abode for a couples’ dinner with wife Charlotte (Judith Godrèche) and a play date for RJ and Max. Kurt’s simple act of compassion belies the grandeur of his life: His home is a mansion that he built with his own two hands, Charlotte is a European knockout and together the two of them bleed cool. (He’s also a wizard putting kids down for beddy-bye, which might be his most awesome attribute of all.)
Once the boys are off in dreamland, the adults get to play, but for Brice, “play” takes on all manner of meanings as Alex and Emily quickly realize they’ve bitten off more casually awkward modernity than they can chew. Think of The Overnight as Paul Mazursky’s Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice by way of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. There’s no extraterrestrial element here, but within the confined loll of Kurt’s and Charlotte’s pad, L.A. adopts a sensational texture that’s nonetheless best described as “alien.” It helps that Brice likes his colors, and sporadically washes The Overnight in a vivid, lurid palette of oranges and blues; much like the film’s free-spirited conflicts, the bright hues reminds us that we’re wading into unfamiliar, uneasy territory.
Like Brice’s debut film, the two-man found footage horror show Creep, The Overnight is a cautionary tale of stranger danger—and talking too much about either does both a disservice. They’re better experienced knowing little of their particulars, with The Overnight perhaps a touch more susceptible to audience intuition than its predecessor. It’s also hilarious, though more often than not you’ll find that you’re laughing either to mask or dispel your own self-consciousness. Brice spends his eighty minute run time working up to one big punchline that in retrospect announces itself in the first act, but it’s a great punchline, and the cringe comedy peppered in between the film’s comic bookends carries us along with naughty buoyancy.
That’s the peak of what The Overnight offers: tonal breeziness and terrific performances, especially from Schilling and Schwartzman, who vibe well together and stand out on their own. She’s our audience surrogate, surveying the narrative’s kink with her typical wild-eyed disbelief; he’s a larger than life bohemian stereotype whose charm lets Schwartzman wear his crown as the king of amicable jerks more snugly than he has in his last half dozen roles. They make up part of the picture’s backbone, with explorations of masculine insecurity, the crumbling infrastructure of a marriage and the truth of what really goes on behind the closed doors of the wealthy comprising the rest of the film’s whole.
But The Overnight’s chief reason for being is to tell an elaborate sex joke while toeing the lines of personal propriety. Social norms are dictated by rules. Rules are meant to be broken. And so Brice breaks them all with impish glee. But fleshy proclamations of manhood and unspeakably bizarre fetishes are just pit stops on the journey toward the movie’s central truth: Mom and dad can’t have their cake and eat it, too. Turns out that kids really do ruin everything.
Director: Patrick Brice
Writer: Patrick Brice
Starring: Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling, Jason Schwartzman, Charlotte Godrèche
Release Date: June 19, 2015
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing online about film since 2009, and has been scribbling for Paste Magazine since 2013. He also contributes to Screen Rant, Movie Mezzanine and Badass Digest. You can follow him on Twitter. He is composed of roughly 65% Vermont craft brews.