Note: This review was originally published back in January 2015 as part of our coverage for the Sundance Film Festival.
Things get awkward pretty fast in Patrick Brice’s sophomore feature film, The Overnight. But that’s been his style so far: For two films now, he’s embraced the stories that surface from strangers trusting other strangers. In last year’s underrated found footage thriller, Creep, he directed himself as a naive camera man responding to a Craigslist ad from a woodsy recluse (Mark Duplass, in an uncanny performance). His latest picture maintains that skin-crawling tension, only he’s lightened the mood considerably. You won’t go home checking underneath your bed; rather, you’ll stare at your spouse, your friends, and your neighbors in a bold, new way.
The Overnight follows Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling), a thirtysomething couple settling into their new Los Angeles home after moving from Seattle. When their son makes a friend at the neighborhood park, the two are invited by the child’s parents, Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) and Charlotte (Judith Godrèche), to have dinner at their house that evening. What starts out as a cordial, harmless pizza party quickly transforms into a rare night of divine revelations and euphoric breakthroughs.
Every character comes to life upon introduction. Within seconds, the enviable chemistry between Scott and Schilling is established in one of the most hilarious sex scenes in recent memory. There’s something off about their relationship, but we want it to succeed as much as they do, which helps carry the story through its perverted, awkward string of events. On the other side, Schwartzman delivers his strongest performance in years, as his schmaltzy over-confidence graduates into adulthood, while the ever-gorgeous Godrèche delightfully paints each scene with her free-spirited European naïveté.
It’s all about the connections, though. Initially, the two couples are linked by their circumstances — they both have kids. As the night evolves, they realize that they share deeper bonds, from existential desires to sexual anxieties. By comparison, Kurt and Charlotte’s marriage is quite advantageous to Alex and Emily’s prude love life. They’re inordinately liberal, waxing on and on about various sexual proclivities, and their passion is legitimately contagious. Without spoiling too much, however, they’re also just as troubled as their new neighbors, which is what truly elevates the story.
At its core, the film wants to discuss love and marriage. How far do we go to retain our matrimony in the wake of our own carnal desires? Where does morality fit in between the eyes of two culpable lovers? How much is too much? In a brilliant, two-part character study, Brice questions these tropes that have plagued married couples for centuries. Through Alex and Emily, he identifies the more archaic pairings and how they lead to closeted emotions and suffocated sex lives. He then flips the coin with Kurt and Charlotte and indicates that there isn’t much solace in the boiling water of liberalism, either.
“She’s my friend; we just don’t have a love life,” Schwartzman pleads. It’s in that admission in which the film really hits home, especially in light of everything that unfolds prior — and it’s a lot. The situations that Brice pits Scott and Schilling up against are highly imaginative and curiously strange without feeling too hyperbolic. Of course, there’s an explicit nude gag that will forever preface this film, but Brice earns it simply because there’s a comfortability at hand that’s fueled by an unquenchable feeling of inquisition. And while it’s all weird and pushes whatever envelope we’ve sealed ourselves in, it’s never enough to think, Let’s call it a night.
Much of that is due to the world that Brice’s carved out. The pinks, the reds, the greens, the blues — you would have thought that Nicolas Winding Refn directed this film. It’s gorgeous and visually stimulating, paralleling the hypersexuality of the film’s cast of characters. Because of this, there’s this weird, unshakeable feeling of nostalgia by the time the credits roll: the party’s over, it’s time to go home, but damn, what a night. It’s a powerful tangibility of The Overnight, but one that reminds us that we’re all just strangers watching from a distance. With something this stylish, who could resist?
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