The Overnight: B
While Judd Apatow has pretty much cornered the mainstream market on modern sexual anxiety, his films are far too sentimental and schticky to effectively skewer the neurotic peccadillos of white middle-class privilege. Perhaps it's yet another indication of how little the boomers have left Gen-Xers, having smoked, toked, and snorted copious amounts of drugs (before enacting three strike laws and their "Just Say No" campaign) and exhausting their swinging, free love, key parties (with AIDS denial, record levels of divorce, and abstinence-only education). At least they left us Internet porn and medicinal marijuana.
Writer-director Patrick Brice's takes a stab at the clumsy yet persistent impact of adult sexual desire in the Sundance fave The Overnight. Unfortunately, despite the best prosthetic penis joke probably ever, his fitfully funny indie still doesn't deliver the awkward sex comedy Gen-Xers deserve.
Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling) are Seattlites who have just moved to Los Angeles with their young son R.J. (R.J. Hermes). She's the corporate-minded breadwinner and he's a stay-at-home dad itching to meet new people. During a park outing, the two meet Kurt (Jason Schwartzman), an affable but weirdly bohemian neighbor. Noting that their sons get along, Kurt invites Alex and Emily over for pizza night with his "actress" wife Charlotte (Judith Godreche).
When the couple arrives at Kurt's mansion/compound they realize that things aren't quite what they expected — and their bottle of Two Buck Chuck probably won't do. Dinner turns into a suggestion that R.J. sleep over while the parents get to know one another a little better. Not wanting to seem uptight and desperate to prove to themselves that they're "up for anything" they agree. This sets in motion a night of booze and pot-fueled dancing, fetish video screenings, naked swimming, and, inevitably, swingers versus squares comedy.
To Brice's credit, as The Overnight's setup takes a turn for both the frisky and the freaky, it throws the audience some surprising curveballs. You may think you know where things are heading — and you'd be partially right — but goofy jokes are balanced with real-world insecurities. Brice, whose first film was a tense thriller, employs that same sense of unease — is the absurdly well-endowed Kurt genuine or a dangerous perv? — to keep you guessing about his characters' motivations.
And it works. To a point. Too bad The Overnight has nothing particularly interesting to say about young parenthood, suburban mores, or sexual identity. It is far more interested in delivering cheeky punchlines than meaningful character explorations or social context. Why not both? The jokes, though solid, are more about setup than source, forgetting to connect the comedy to the character. By the time we get to the climax's (pun intended) clumsy transformation, we have no idea why Alex and Emily have finally given in. Worse, instead of going somewhere interesting with their decision, the moment is thrown away with yet another joke (though it's well-timed).
Schilling wields her double and triple takes with masterful skill but ends up fading as a character as the film enters its third act. Godreche does what she can to ground a clichéd sexpot. Brice's script tries to balance the men and wives' experiences, but really this is Scott and, most especially, Schwartzman's show.
Playing the straight man, Scott is fearlessly self-deprecating, which provides for a great counterbalance to Schwartzman's edgy sense of finicky panache. The actor has an arch, oddball delivery that has been a terrific fit for Wes Anderson's work but not always found a home elsewhere. Those who know and like his work will enjoy what is probably his best comic creation to date. Those that don't get the appeal may remain unconvinced.
In many ways, The Overnight feels like it could have been a stage play, offering up an intimate evening of social and sexual awkwardness that culminates in an emotionally uncertain sense of identity. The film's tone is casually intimate (though barely cinematic) and its cast is both funny and appealing. But instead of upending our notions about modern intimacy it opts for cheery naughtiness. What a tease!
Rated R, 79 minutes