Approaching the adit of a posh Californian mansion equipped with a pool and portraits of anuses strewn through an adjacent dungeon, Alex and Emily (Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling, both terrific) are more concerned with having only brought a $2.00 wine for their hosts. Alex immediately scrapes the label off from the cheap wine, peddling the liquor as organic, carefully fermented, and something that it surely is not. It is in this low-key exchange that we see writer/director Patrick Brice most clearly spell out the dichotomy found in The Overnight, where the couple makes attempts to seize an identity that is perhaps too far beyond their reach.
The catalyst couple that shakes Alex and Emily out of their complacency is Kurt and Charlotte (Jason Schwartzman and Judith Godrèche, also both terrific). With Kurt having accosted Alex and Emily on a local playground, Brice embellishes their early exchanges with stereotypical culture-clash humor, as Kurt’s hyperbolized hipster quirks and Charlotte’s Parisian exoticism punish the veneer of Alex and Emily’s square, straight-man act. After the foursome put their children to bed – with Kurt orchestrating a piano lullaby that half-part sweet and half-part deliriously awkward – the real party begins.
As was the case with his first film, the Mark Duplass-starring Creep, Brice has a particular capacity for inducing a wicked case of the fantods. His ability to exact a tonal sense of unease largely comes from how he mixes pathos and comedy and horror all within single scenes, leaving both the characters in his films and the audience at a standstill to assess exactly what’s the emotional tenor. His two films have shown a deft capacity at unstitching the fabric of loneliness and solitude and confronting it in broadly comic, but nevertheless touching, ways. A final sequence in The Overnight involves a group hug that was met with as many labored laughs from male audience members as there were fits of uncomfortable silences – there’s a tension that Brice achieves that’s awkward and funny, but confrontantially true to human behavior.
Yet The Overnight is plagued by how compact it really is. Condensed to a single night, there’s a bloated quality to the film that seems to touch upon many ideas yet never actually elaborates on them. The most prominent statement it makes seems to refer to the problems of failing masculinity, though it operates in conjunction with concepts like the strains of monogamy and matrimony and an even less realized class struggle – these all become light bulbs of ideas that flicker in and out yet never illuminate the picture. There’s a feckless quality to his construction as well, where the concupiscence that develops between the foursome grows weary as Brice fractures the relationship. This is a film that operates best when the four characters occupy the same narrative and visual space, where the strengths of its performers are funneled into a singular scene. When fractured, the film plods about, with plotting that’s just too flimsy to sustain itself.
As with Creep, Brice takes The Overnight down an unexpected route to what’s ultimately a familiar conclusion. The supposed differences between the two couples unite them, shedding light on everyone’s insecurities and troubles; Kurt and Charlotte are confronted with different though nevertheless strained marital problems that mirror Alex and Emily’s. In Brice’s worldview, life’s problems are self-executed, wherein “expanding” one’s palette does not necessarily correspond with experience. And if the conclusion attests to a singular idea, it’s perhaps that, most perversely, it’s more fun to want something rather than to have it.