SXSW 2015: ‘The Overnight’ is an insightful, cringeworthy, and wholly fantastic examination of marital relationships
Written and directed by Patrick Brice
With his debut feature Creep, director Patrick Brice brought audiences an exercise in discomfort. A mockumentary about a man who answers a mysterious ad on Craigslist, the film deftly blended cringe comedy and horror. Brice’s second feature, The Overnight, finds the director working in a similar vein, though it forgoes the horror. In its first half, the film successfully mines humor from its supremely awkward narrative. But it is far more than just a cringe comedy. With the help of a stellar ensemble cast and an intelligent script, Brice demonstrates that he can make audiences think just as well as he can make them squirm.
Newly arrived in Los Angeles, Alex and Emily (Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling) befriend Curt (Jason Schwartzman) while supervising their son at a birthday party. Though they find him somewhat abrasive and intimidating, the two still accept Curt’s invitation to a dinner party that evening at his house. The get-together is initially successful. Alex and Emily find Curt and his wife Charlotte (Judith Godrèche) to be charming and think they have the potential to be close friends. The problem is Curt and Charlotte are looking for more than just friends. As the party atmosphere becomes more sexually suggestive, Alex and Emily must reassess their comfort levels and decide how far they are willing to let themselves be influenced by their newfound companions.
The first half of The Overnight is ruled by scenarios that place the more conventional Alex and Emily at odds with Curt and Charlotte’s bohemian, sex-positive lifestyle. In one early scene, Curt presents some of his abstract paintings of human anuses – many of them are self-portraits – to his dinner guests, and Alex and Emily attempt, with great difficulty, to provide thoughtful compliments. Scott and Schilling do excellent work in scenes such as these, easily conveying the internal dilemmas of their characters. Alex and Emily want to appear open-minded but can’t quite hide how uncomfortable they feel around the carefree Curt and Charlotte.
Eventually the two relinquish themselves to their hosts’ lifestyle and drop the social niceties and inhibitions. It is when the characters become more emotionally direct with each other that The Overnight takes a turn, becoming a thoughtful examination on martial relationships. The dinner party becomes an environment where personal dissatisfactions and desires are openly aired. Alex reveals his self-perceived masculine inadequacies, and Emily divulges her frustration with her current sex life. Even Curt and Charlotte, who Emily considers to have superb sexual chemistry, are placed under the microscope, with their marriage revealed as being just as rife with difficulties as Alex and Emily’s.
Though The Overnight quickly shifts from comedy to drama, the film never feels tonally jarring. The entire ensemble demonstrates that they are just as adept at handling the more intense subject matter as they are with the more humorous material. Furthermore, Brice’s excellent screenplay always keeps the focus on character development and interactions. Every scene serves to reveal new depths to these people, and Brice maintains this emphasis regardless of whether he’s working in a comedic or dramatic milieu.
With The Overnight, Brice demonstrates that he is more than just a purveyor of discomfiting humor. His second feature possesses such specificity in terms of character development, and one would be hard-pressed to find an ensemble of characters that is as fully realized as Alex, Emily, Curt and Charlotte. When seeing The Overnight, be prepared not only to laugh and cringe but also to be taken aback by one of the most thoughtful films of the year thus far.
— Jacob Carter