Published Jul 02, 2015It's well known that making friends becomes increasingly difficult as we age. We're able to pinpoint alienating idiosyncrasies and obnoxious worldviews in others quite readily, while accumulating our own collection of baggage, defence mechanisms and intolerances that similarly deflect others. In short, we learn how to avoid the crap we don't have patience for and start to figure out that most of what we can learn from others is how ridiculous, petty and solipsistic they can be. And what makes Patrick Brice's subtly hilarious adult relationship comedy, The Overnight, work is knowing all of this while the characters are forced into an impulse family hangout with strangers, despite a number of red flags.
Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling) have recently moved to Los Angeles. Their relationship has its hiccups — Alex is a bit uncomfortable with Emily's status as the breadwinner — but is mostly functional (mostly being sustained by their shared role as parent to a son), making the need for local friends a bit of a priority. When their son befriends another boy at a nearby park, Alex and Emily accept an invite from his father, Kurt (Jason Schwartzman), for a family dinner get together.
Initially, The Overnight plays as a comic examination of awkward social etiquettes. Alex and Emily, desperate to make a good impression, tend to be overly agreeable and complimentary when they enter the home of Kurt and Charlotte (Judith Godrèche). They rip the label off the generic middle-class wine they purchased and pretend to be knowledgeable of the occasional pretentious reference that Kurt tosses out. The question here is just how far this politeness will stretch.
Once Kurt reveals that he paints portraits of buttholes in his spare time — and asks Alex to guess which one is his — and Charlotte tosses on a breast pump instructional video she was featured in, Emily starts to nudge Alex to leave.
As things gradually spiral out of control and the awkward situations pile up, Alex and Emily's relationship is cleverly dissected. Brice isn't just interested in seeing how far social niceties will push people; he's also curious to poke at the complacency and unspoken insecurities in a relationship to see how people react. There's also the constant question of just what it is that Kurt and Charlotte ultimately want from their new friends, adding a sense of mystery to this consistently entertaining character play. Are Emily and Alex misreading the situation or are their new acquaintances genuinely creepy?
While Schwartzman does a decent job of playing ostensibly the same character he always plays — a narcissistic, insincere windbag — it's Schilling and Scott that really make this (almost) single set piece work. Scott's insecurity and thinly veiled curiosity sustains an underlying neurosis and discomfort, and Schilling's impeccable knack for unspoken facial reactions — barely concealing her embarrassment of her husband and having hilarious reactions to nonsensical yammering — consistently adds complexity and intelligence to each scene. This is a film about performances and about people slowly making themselves cautiously vulnerable, despite the many rules and assumptions that go into interacting with new people, which means these background quirks and ticks indirectly tell the entire story.
Though there ultimately isn't much to The Overnight beyond the performances, the occasional funny moment and some keen observations about adult relationships, it's eminently enjoyable. It's refreshing to watch a movie about people being people without any implausible gimmicks or ham-fisted didactics imposing their political and sociological will on the audience.