Rarely does a film come along that features a completely unlikable cast of characters. In this day and age, The Overnight is that movie. Admittedly, there are also two young boys in the picture, but they get a pass and reprieve due to the cinema criticism “blamelessness clause.” The children’s very innocence suspends them from this puerile, bubbling movie muck pit. But the tykes’ screen time is only about 12 minutes total, much of it asleep. If only the four adults of this dreck-in-indie-film’s-clothing would’ve taken that same slumberous route. However, there is a silver lining: The Overnight does eventually end. But it takes 80 grueling minutes until those closing credits mercifully roll.
The opening scene sets the tone, as married couple Emily (Taylor Schilling) and Alex (Adam Scott) work through what could be described as a couples’ issue. Soon after, they’re taking young son R.J. to a neighborhood park for a birthday party, where he immediately makes a new friend in a little boy, Max. Then along comes Max’s dad. Dressed like a hipster version of villainous Rev. Henry Kane from Poltergeist II: The Other Side, Kurt strolls over to introduce himself to Emily and Alex. Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) invites the family over for pizza night, and the pair, only recently having moved to Los Angeles from Seattle and eager for friends, readily accepts.
After arriving at Kurt’s swanky home, they meet his French wife Charlotte. Kurt and Charlotte (Judith Godrèche) seem supernaturally sophisticated: Kurt designed and built the family home, has created a revolutionary water filtration system, and, of course, is an artist. Charlotte is an actress and self-described “masseuse.” For God’s sake, seven-year-old Max is fluent in Spanish and French. Emily and Alex are all bumbling inadequacy, trying to pass off a bottle of label-less Two Buck Chuck as a boutique red. During dinner, much wine is consumed and, after tucking the boys in for the night, it’s decided that the four grownups will stay up all night and revel in their sudden friendship.
Over the course of the long evening, more booze is guzzled, weed is smoked, boundaries are pushed, vulnerabilities exposed, much chatty blathering ensues, and we are pounded into boredom. Kurt and Charlotte become increasingly outré, trying to either shock or seduce the nebbish and dubious Alex and Emily. The two men wind up comparing their literal manliness in a kind of poolside ritual that would make “men’s movement” misogynist Robert Bly proud. Stoned and drunk, the women bond on Charlotte’s bed — you see, she has her own bedroom, separate from Kurt.
Will she seduce the introverted Emily? Why is everyone hanging out in cotton robes? Could there be a hint of “swinging” heating up the night? Is it somehow possible that Kurt and Charlotte aren’t libertines at all, but — sob — two insecure souls also in need of friends? Who cares? Why did I watch this? Oh, yeah, paycheck.
Writer-director Patrick Brice pulls out all the stops in The Overnight, but there’s a “throw shit at the wall and see if it sticks” quality to the storyline: “Does this scene seem spicy enough? No? How about a handjob? No dice? Anyone game for a sudden heart-to-heart discussion by the pool?”
The film is produced by the Duplass brothers, who’ve been involved as directors and/or producers of films such as 2010’s Cyrus,Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2011) and last year’s The Skeleton Twins. Not all of the Duplasses’ films have been worthy, but they’ve generally received positive reviews. Hosannas aside, with The Overnight, the Duplass boys and Brice essentially deal in sentimentality and quirkiness, volatile elements even in the hands of even the most skilled comedic filmmakers, a category that does not include these three.
This movie suffers from arguably a trend in “indie” comedies to trade in a strong, credible storyline for humorous gimmicks or mandated raunchiness. The late, great ’70s National Lampoon and first-wave SNL writer Michael O’Donoghue once noted that, “The true essence of comedy is a baby seal hunt.” But O’Donoghue routinely set his sights on targets that were unprecedented, sacrosanct, and in need of pummeling. From the outset of The Overnight, Brice stays nestled in the suburbs to establish and reinforce the film’s ultimate dynamic: Kurt and Charlotte are connoisseurs; Alex and Emily are cornballs. Then Brice proceeds to club us with this drained idea until we’re left bloody and dazed just enough to be somehow satisfied by the equally hackneyed ending.
Quite frankly, watching The Overnight feels like a test to gauge one’s reaction to, and predilection for, contemporary, left-of-field comedy, and required-yet-placid-risqué.
And if that’s the case, I’ve failed that test. I’ll return to my W.C. Fields DVDs, mentholated unguents, and surgical masks filled with ether.
And I sure as hell won’t lose any sleep over it.