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Overnight, The

D: Patrick Brice / 79m

Cast: Adam Scott, Jason Schwartzman, Taylor Schilling, Judith Godrèche, R.J. Hermes, Max Moritt

Newly moved to Los Angeles, Alex (Scott) and Emily (Schilling) are both unsure just how successful their move will prove to be. They have a young son, RJ (Hermes), but no friends or family that live nearby; starting afresh is both challenging and scary. Emily goes out to work while Alex stays at home to look after their son. Their sex life is perfunctory and predictable, but they support each other and both are happy with their relationship.

One day at a local park, their son begins to make friends with another boy, Max (Moritt), who is of a similar age. This leads to their being approached by the other boy’s father, Kurt (Schwartzman). He gives them some good advice about getting RJ into a good school, and the three of them find themselves hitting it off, so much so that Kurt invites Alex and Emily to come over for dinner; they can even bring RJ with them. They accept, but when they’re getting ready that evening, their worries about not enjoying the dinner leads to them deciding to leave at the earliest opportunity.

Kurt’s home proves to be spacious and impressive. Alex and Emily are introduced to his wife, Charlotte (Godrèche), who is French, and they all start to get to know each other. Kurt is very artistic: he renovated the house himself, likes to paint (though the recurring theme of his paintings is surprising), and even makes short movies that feature Charlotte (and the content of these movies is also surprising). Despite Alex and Emily becoming more and more uncomfortable with the way the evening is going, they also find themselves fascinated by what might happen next. They’re persuaded to stay longer than they planned, and RJ and Max are put to bed, leaving the adults to continue learning about each other.

It isn’t long before the conversation becomes more personal, though Alex finds his own hang-ups alleviated by what’s said, while Emily becomes even more uncomfortable. When Kurt suggests they all go skinny-dipping in the pool it proves to be a major turning point for both the way the evening is going, and for Alex personally as he confronts one of his major demons. And Emily finds herself going on a trip with Charlotte that results in an experience that she could never have predicted at the beginning of the evening, but which leaves her uncomfortable and confused. It all leads to a moment of confession that reveals a hidden truth about Kurt and Charlotte and their enviable lifestyle, and which also reveals unspoken truths about Alex and Emily.

Overnight, The - scene

The second feature from writer/director/actor Patrick Brice is a complete about face from his first movie, the horror thriller Creep (2014). The Overnight is a comedy about sexual attraction, relationships, hidden desires, emotional and physical honesty, and to a lesser degree, self-loathing. It’s smart, clever, funny, surprisingly wistful, and features four wonderful performances, particularly from Schwartzman, whose impish portrayal of Kurt mines the character for extra layers of depth and is as fully rounded a performance as you’re likely to see all year.

It’s an enjoyable movie that some viewers may find predictable as it picks its way through the minefield of modern marriage, but Brice’s main trick is to keep the dialogue sparkling and fresh, so that by the time Kurt falls back naked into the pool it’s a moment that is both surprising and unnerving – surprising for Schwartzman being completely nude, and unnerving because the viewer is suddenly unsure of just where this movie is going (there’s more than a hint of a swinging motive at play here, but Brice isn’t that obvious). As Alex embraces each twist and turn the evening throws at him, and Emily holds back in her perceived role of the voice of reason, the cracks in their relationship begin to show, and their conservatism is shown to be a mask of self-deception.

Brice cleverly dissects the threads of attraction that exist in all marriages, both internal and external, but isn’t judgmental at all, and he doesn’t encourage his audience to be either. It makes for an intelligent look at the secret fantasies couples keep from each other, and how such fantasies can be harmful if not given proper expression (though it does depend on the fantasy). As the couple who think they’re reading from the same page, Scott and Schilling are both terrific, his nervy apprehensive nature perfectly complementing her outwardly confident demeanour, while in reality these traits are what the other really feels on the inside. Alex has the greater character arc, and his relationship with Kurt is carefully written so as to show the emerging similarities between the two of them, while Charlotte’s French sensibilities and lack of patience with Alex and Emily’s reluctance to be honest with themselves about what they want helps propel the story to its conclusion.

It’s a lively, very humorous tale constructed with a view to hoodwinking the audience at various points. That Brice succeeds in his intentions so easily is partly due to the way in which he makes each revelation about Kurt and Charlotte’s relationship a part of a larger puzzle for the viewer to solve, and the way he structures each revelation around the bemusement that Alex and Emily feel; they’re fish out of water and they flounder accordingly for much of the movie.

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There are minor quibbles: in comparison to Kurt and Alex, Emily and Charlotte are afforded less screen time and attention; a particular “visual effect” looks unconvincing (as well as uncomfortable); and the emotional boldness on display throughout is undermined by the timidity of the movie’s penultimate scene. That said, Brice is firmly in control in the director’s chair, and the movie is adroitly assembled by editor Christopher Donlon. There’s also some subtly observant camera work courtesy of John Guleserian that keeps things focused and visually interesting, and the whole movie has an enviable pace that maintains the audience’s interest throughout.

Rating: 8/10 – smart, funny, intelligent, honest – The Overnight is all these things and more, and a rare example of a movie that isn’t afraid to explore the secret motives and desires of married couples; with its quartet of candid performances and Brice’s assured direction it’s a movie with so many nuances it bears a second, equally rewarding, viewing.