“The Overnight”, like Noah Baumbach’s recent hit comedy “While We’re Young”, examines a dubious nascent friendship between two bohemian couples—one of them more bohemian than the other. The less cool couple are Alex (Adam Scott, above right) and Emily (Taylor Schilling), both in their 30s, who have just moved from Seattle to Los Angeles with their son, RJ. Alex, a stay-at-home dad, is worried that he won’t meet new people, so when RJ starts playing with another boy in the local park, Alex is happy to talk to the boy’s father, Kurt (Jason Schwartzman, above left). He is happier still when Kurt invites the family over for pizza. True, he seems a tad touchy-feely, and his hat is an even bolder fashion statement than Adam Driver’s was in “While We’re Young”, but, hey, that’s California.
The evening begins promisingly. Kurt has an enviable gated mansion and a charming French wife, Charlotte (Judith Godrèche), and has apparently made a fortune from his water-filtration system. Without it, he explains, “You’re basically drinking liquid cancer.” Alex and Emily are so impressed that, after a few glasses of wine, they agree to let RJ sleep upstairs while the grown-ups keep the party going. Kurt then breaks out the marijuana, and proposes some naked swimming in the pool.
Written and directed by Patrick Brice, “The Overnight” is as shrewd and sensitive as a film can be while being fixated on penis size. Even as Alex and Emily come to suspect that they’ve stumbled into a wife-swapping party, there are always credible reasons why they don’t just go home. Prey to the insecurities of any parent who is new in town, they are desperate for friends, desperate to fit into their adopted milieu, and desperate not to appear uptight in front of their cosmopolitan hosts. The question is whether, having been asked to strip off in front of relative strangers, it is more of a faux pas to refuse than to accept. Beyond that, there is the suggestion that they are in fact drawn to the permissiveness that Kurt and Charlotte are offering, just as long as they can convince each other that they’re only going along with it to be polite. Anyway, Kurt is an authority on the area’s primary schools, so it’s their parental duty to smoke his dope and frolic in his pool.
As analogous as it is to “While We’re Young”, “The Overnight” has more in common with the neurotic indie comedies of the mid-1990s: “Beautiful Girls”, “Flirting with Disaster”, “Daytrippers”, “Chasing Amy”, “Swingers”. In that distant, pre-Judd Apatow era, there was a run of sharp, risqué farces about middle-class adults wrestling with their relationship hang-ups, and, unlike today’s comedies, they were all based on completed scripts rather than show-offy improv sessions. Brice’s deliciously uncomfortable, very funny film fits right in. Take away one mention of the internet, and “The Overnight” could have been made in 1996, with Ben Stiller, Parker Posey, Owen Wilson and Mira Sorvino in the starring roles.
Towards the end, though, it does have some of the slackness of a more recent Hollywood comedy. Appropriately for a film about parents staying up all night, the energy wanes in its final stages, and Brice has trouble finding new embarrassments to heap upon his characters. Perhaps it shouldn’t be too surprising. Early on in the evening, Alex and Emily are shown Charlotte’s breast-pump instructional videos and Kurt’s giant paintings of anuses. Where could “The Overnight” possibly go after that?
The Overnight is out now