Tribeca Film Festival 2015: The Overnight: Quasi-Porn Without the Money Shot

Innocents Taylor Schilling and Adam Scott are seduced, sort of, in this weird, funny but ultimately skin-deep comedy/drama.
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It’s been two days since I saw The Overnight and I’m still not quite sure what to make of it. I can’t deny that it has its funny moments, mocking L.A.’s current state of hipster-speak and also effectively pressing the squirm-inducing buttons of sexual/social embarrassment comedy. Yet the film also seems to be trying for something a little deeper - but only trying. It has a titillating, almost soft-core porn vibe that distracts from, and in some cases negates, the relationship-testing drama that seems to be lurking at its core. 

The plot is simple enough. Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation) and Taylor Schilling (Orange is the New Black) play Alex and Emily, a married couple with a young son named RJ who have just moved to a trendy L.A. neighborhood from Seattle. At a kid’s birthday party, they meet Kurt (Jason Schwartzman), whose son Wade is hitting it off with RJ. Anxious to make friends, Alex and Emily accept Kurt’s invitation to join him and his wife Charlotte (Judith Godrèche) for a combined dinner/play date for the kids. And so the long night’s journey through ever-weirder territory begins. 

Kurt and Charlotte, uber-hip, friendly, and attractive, have a huge, beautifully decorated house complete with a pool, but the source of their apparently large income is frustratingly vague. It turns out to be based on DVDs that feature a topless Charlotte and Kurt demonstrating a breast pump, which is apparently prime masturbatory fodder in some Scandinavian countries. Well, to each his/her own. 

The over-familiarity and boundary violations continue and multiply, abetted by alcohol and some potent pot. A round of skinny-dipping reveals Alex’s shame about the size of his penis (particularly when Kurt casually reveals his own economy-sized schlong). The Overnight deserves credit for acknowledging that it’s not only women who have body issues, but the whole thing is presented so jokily by director/screenwriter Patrick Brice that it also seems to be mocking some men’s “size matters” obsessions. 

(Scott and his wife Naomi are executive producers of the film, so presumably he’s secure enough in his masculinity to be fictionally represented as under-sized.) 

The seduction of the innocents continues as Charlotte takes Emily on a road trip to a massage parlor, forcing her to face both her own same-sex curiosity and unacknowledged voyeurism. (Much is made of the fact that Emily has had no other sex partners than her husband, and that she resents the effort it takes to keep his ego bolstered.) Emily has a line to Charlotte about the unexpected ways marriage and family catch up with one, which Schilling makes rather touching in her delivery: “I never thought I’d be surrounded by boys.” 

The cracks in both couples’ relationships become wider and more visible as the night wears on. Without revealing too many of the sitcom-ish twists that wind up the story, let’s just say Kurt and Charlotte are not really the confident swingers they seem to be, nor are Alex and Emily simply the shocked squares. In fact, it occurred to me that the whole story might well be a “be careful what you wish for” fantasy of Alex, Emily, or both. Kurt and Charlotte waver between real people and stock fantasy figures (artsy/sexy guy, sophisticated French woman), so it can be tough to figure out how seriously to take their problems. 

This double vision may be part of Brice’s storytelling strategy; if so, he deserves props for some narrative sophistication. He’s helped by the actors, particularly Schwartzman, who is skilled at gently bullying his guests and for sounding seriously sincere even when delivering nonsensical self-help-isms. The film is also admirable for casually noting that, given the right situation, people’s sexual preferences can sometimes slide a few notches on the Kinsey scale toward same-sex attraction without provoking a soul-searching crisis. 

Yet overall The Overnight seems thin, its plotting just a bit too convenient. Its characters are certainly more real and dimensional than those found in porn, yet despite the skill of the actors they also seem somewhat less than full-blooded people with real psychologies at work. Perhaps I’m being a prude; perhaps I’m looking for a more thoughtful drama when The Overnight is providing just a clever, provocatively sexy comedy of manners. If the film is only the latter, that’s still nothing to sneeze at. This is only Brice’s second feature film, and he’s certainly talented. Perhaps he just needs more practice balancing all the different flavors in his recipes.

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