New to Los Angeles, where they don’t know a single soul, young parents Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling) are eager to make friends. So when they’re approached at the park by a fellow parent, the politely bohemian Kurt (Jason Schwartzman), the two accept without hesitation his friendly offer to have them over for dinner, where they can get to know each other while their sons enjoy an arranged playdate. Best case scenario, Emily figures, is that they expand their social circle. Worse case, they’re bored and go home early. There are, of course, multiple shapes an evening with strangers can take, and The Overnight, a sharp comedic export of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, counts on its audience to recognize famous last words when it hears them. The pleasure of the movie lies in the way it both rewards and subverts expectations, delivering on the risqué possibilities of its premise while also coming up with something smarter and a little deeper than a log line might suggest.
No use tiptoeing around the central tension: It seems clear, pretty early into the night, that Kurt and his beautiful French wife, Charlotte (Judith Godrèche), are hoping their wining, dining, and bong ripping will lead straight to the bedroom. That, anyway, is what Alex and Emily gradually begin to suspect, as their gracious hosts—having put the kids to bed upstairs—begin showing off their collection of homemade breast-pumping videos and proposing a little innocent skinny-dipping in the backyard pool. The comedy hinges, at least initially, on just how much our straitlaced main characters will ignore their own discomfort out of fear of seeming uptight or uncool. Is this a swinger strategy, turning the night into a game of drop-your-inhibitions chicken?
Again, The Overnight flirts with one trajectory, but ends up committing to a much more interesting one. Putting a potentially kinky twist on the four-person setup of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?—minus the vitriol, but not the marital issues—writer-director Patrick Brice uses the talky intimacy of his dinner-party scenario to expose the hang-ups of his characters. Impeccable casting helps. Schilling, who plays a much different species of WASP than her Orange Is The New Black heroine, and Scott, who exposes new layers of vulnerability, transition smoothly from cringe comedy to light relationship drama. The trickier roles, perhaps, belong to their co-stars: Introduced like two parodies of impossible hipness and enlightenment, Schwartzman and Godrèche gradually betray the cracks in their laissez-faire facade. Their performances fit into the film’s overall agenda; just as the characters shed their pretensions (and clothes) as they get to know each other, the film peels away layers to reveal itself.
Like Mike Nichols’ Virginia Woolf adaptation, The Overnight makes the minor mistake of briefly straying from its single setting, in this case sending two of its players into the night for a naughty detour. (The scene almost seems engineered as trailer bait, a punctuation to reel in the curious.) On the other hand, it’s impressive that Brice never provokes doubt that Alex and Emily would stick around; there’s an emotional logic to them staying planted, even when—to paraphrase Emily—things start to get crazy. What the film best captures is one of those long, meaningful nights where bonds are forged so quickly and intensely that they have almost no hope of surviving past the dawn. If that sounds a little too heady, though, keep in mind that The Overnight also features a scene of Adam Scott and Jason Schwartzman dancing naked together, each actor sporting a comically over- or under-sized prosthetic penis. So, yeah, it’s a little bit the movie it first appears to be.