The Overnight plays like the pilot of a sitcom developed for Netflix or premium cable. A hit-and-miss affair that deals in a sporadically amusing fashion with many of the mundane (and a few not-so-mundane) tribulations of long-term monogamy in marriage, The Overnight is short enough not to overstay its welcome but too short to effectively develop the characters and their situations. Although the screenplay, credited to director Patrick Brice, seeks to balance the male and female perspectives, the men are better rounded than their wives.
The Overnight chronicles what happens during an adult sleepover. The night evolves from a traditional playdate where two young boys spend time having fun while their parents chat and get to know one another. Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling) are new to Los Angeles and desperate to meet people and make friends. Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) and Charlotte (Judith Godreche) are happy to oblige them. At first, Alex and Emily think they've found the perfect couple. But once the kids are in bed, things get frisky: there's pot and a fetish video, a naked swim in the backyard pool, Charlotte introducing Emily to her "hobby", and the seemingly inevitable clumsy group sex. Excepting an epilogue, the movie ends with a joke that earns a big laugh while giving Brice an "out" by allowing him to avoid addressing the Pandora's Box he has opened. It's a cheat.
None of Brice's observations about marriage, parenting, or sexual identity are particularly insightful. There's truth in some of the smaller moments, such as how the presence of a child can impact the nocturnal activities of the parents, but the screenplay feels unfinished. Part of the problem is that there are times when getting to a punchline is more important than exploring a character or relationship. For every "true" moment, such as Emily's growing wariness about her new friends' motivations, there's something that rings false, like Charlotte's activity during the liquor run.
The performers are well matched to their characters. Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling are excellent as the newcomers - parents who are anxious about fitting into their new community. Alex is more neurotic about this than Emily is. (She has a nice line early in the film - "everything I need is under this roof", meaning her husband and child.) Scott, a comedic character actor, shows his quasi-dramatic chops, making Alex a likable (if somewhat awkward) guy. Schilling steps away from Orange is the New Black for a more normal role that she settles into nicely. Meanwhile, there's something a little "odd" (bordering on sinister) about Kurt and Charlotte. Jason Schwartzman exploits the edgier, off-putting aspects of Kurt's personality; we're never sure whether he's genuine or trying too hard. Judith Godreche exhibits similar qualities as Charlotte, although she's more subdued.
It's questionable whether Brice wants to make an overarching sociological statement or is just trying to tell a story about a pair of couples who connect in an unconventional situation. The film's brevity makes it easily digestible but there's an underlying sense of frustration - dissatisfaction that the characters aren't fleshed out better and the humor isn't more organic. Too often, scenes are used to set up jokes rather than having the jokes germinate from the material. Character development is also uneven. Alex's "transformation" (courtesy of pot and a couple of obviously artificial prosthetic penises) happens too suddenly. Likewise, Emily's point-of-view, which is strong during some of the early scenes, disappears late in the film. During the climactic sequence, we have no idea what she's thinking or feeling. Missteps like this prevent The Overnight from becoming more than a distraction - pleasant enough to watch but not permanent enough to remember.
© 2015 James Berardinelli