"It smells weird"
Doing something truly new and different is next to impossible in mainstream filmmaking in this day and age, particularly when recognizable stars are involved. This is part of the charm of the new comedy The Overnight, which I was lucky enough to see back in May when it played the Chicago Critics Film Festival. In only his second feature as a writer and director, Patrick Brice announces himself as a storyteller that's willing to take big risks in order to reap huge rewards. While it ultimately and sadly cops out in its final minutes, The Overnight brings enough freshness and comedy to the table to feel like a wholly new take on the couple's comedies that have been so prevalent of late.
The film manages to pack a whole lot of hilariously shocking comedy in just a hair under 80 minutes and, brilliantly at times, manages to be a truly 21st century adult comedy. The film centers around Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling), a couple who recently relocated to Los Angeles with their son RJ (R.J. Hermes). An early, nearly wordless scene set at a birthday party perfectly sums up the awkwardness of being the "new couple in town," and sets a tone of discomfort that the film will exploit in increasingly skillful ways, particularly once Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) is introduced. Schwartzman is an actor who lives for these kinds of characters, injecting a level of uncomfortable familiarity that most actors his age are eager to avoid. From the moment he burst onto the screen in Rushmore, he's had this ability to play characters beyond their years in maturity, which gives them a sweet but creepy edge that few others seem willing to tackle.
Kurt's son Max (Max Moritt) hits it off with RJ, and Kurt invites Alex, Emily, and RJ over to his home that evening for what is ostensibly a playdate for their children, but carries an air of foreboding. When the couple arrives, they're introduced to Kurt's wife and the family's breadwinner Charlotte (Judith Godrèche), and just when it seems that the evening is drawing to a close, Kurt turns on the charm and convinces Alex and Emily to stay a while longer, offering up Max's room for him and RJ to have a sleepover while their adult fun can continue. It becomes apparent that Kurt and Charlotte seem to desire something from Alex and Emily, and as the night wears on, the booze and seemingly bad decisions start to flow.
If anything works to The Overnight's favor, it's the film's ability to almost constantly stay a step ahead of the audience. What seems like a cut and dry proposition to "swing" is hardly that, and the film is smart enough to know as much. Where the film loses steam is in the third act, when it has cranked up the crazy factor as high as it can go and taken so many left turns that there's literally nowhere for the film to go but downhill. It seems like a clear cut case of a filmmaker having painted himself into a corner, yet as the climax approaches, it becomes all too obvious that the endgame was blatantly foreshadowed in the film's opening moments.
Ultimately the film's ending is far too conventional and predictable to be as outrageous as Brice had obviously hoped. It's such a conventional ending to a marvelously unpredictable film, but is thankfully not a deal breaker. The Overnight wants to be wild and mercurial, and yet it cops out most right when it should have been further subverting your expectations. It's never dull and manages to keep a well-stocked bag of tricks at its disposal, which makes its ending all the more disappointing. Thankfully there's a coda that nicely washes the taste of that ending out of your mouth, but for such a brilliantly rebellious movie, it's sad that it felt the need to undercut everything that came before with an age old storytelling convention.
The film's core quartet is game for just about anything, and that sells the insanity perfectly. Scott and Schilling are obviously the audience's surrogates, their success hinging on their ability to want to go with the flow long past the point that they should have politely declined. Godrèche is also excellent as a European woman who clearly doesn't get why Americans have so many hang-ups about sex. It's Schwartzman, however, who steals the film. He exudes hipster creepiness from the moment he arrives on screen, yet manages to make his very damaged character both pitiable and relatable. I'm glad he decided not to throw in the towel on his acting career because, as I said earlier, he's willing to go places most other actors won't.
Despite its reliance on convention at the exact moment it should have pushed things over the edge, The Overnight still works far more often that it doesn't. Any film that's willing to lay itself and its actors' reputations on the line is a film that demands to be seen, and The Overnight has no shortage of scenes that might have ended any of its actors' careers twenty years ago. It feels like a logical extension of that time period when independent cinema was coming into its own and pushing boundaries on the regular, and had it arrived in the early to mid 90s, it would likely be hailed as a comedic masterpiece. In 2015, it feels a bit too willing to push buttons and attempt to shock the audience, but it's the sweetness that will linger with the viewer long after it's over.
GO Rating: 3.5/5