Among other virtues, Patrick Brice's The Overnight is a film that admirably captures the benefits and perils of staying up too late hanging out with people you're still getting to know. At a certain point - particularly if a little alcohol is involved - a combination of familiarity and fatigue opens a window for people to say things they might not say or do things they might not do in the cold light of day. This is why the world is full of conversations that begin with the words, "About last night..."
The film moves with the efficiency of a one-act play, quickly introducing us to our quartet of main characters and setting up the film's basic scenario. Alex (Adam Scott, Parks and Recreation) and Emily (Taylor Schilling, Orange is the New Black) are a married couple who have just moved to California with their young son. They don't really know anyone in the area, but a friendly encounter at a local park leads to a dinner invitation from Kurt (Jason Schwartzman, Bored to Death) and Charlotte (Judith Godreche, Stoker), who also have a young son.
The bulk of the film plays out over the course of a single evening, which begins as a simple "getting to know you" session and eventually begins to evolve into something more complicated. Right off the bat, Brice begins ladling out roughly equal portions of connection and discomfort, as our characters bond over similarities and squirm over differences (Kurt and Charlotte often seem to use makeout sessions as punctuation marks for their conversations).
After the kids go to bed, things start getting a little weird: Kurt shows the group some surprisingly explicit video footage of his wife, reveals his fondness for painting portraits of a certain part of the human anatomy (probably not the one you're thinking of) and launches a spontaneous skinny-dipping session. Emily begins to feel an increasing urge to call it a night - she's pretty sure she knows what Kurt and Charlotte are up to, and so are we - but Alex refuses. He's made new friends, he's having new experiences and he wants to find out where this night is going.
The Overnight is fundamentally a comedy of discomfort, but it reaches its cringe-inducing moments honestly. It also gives us a pair of marriages that feel uniquely complicated and authentic. Alex and Emily are the more recognizably "normal" couple while Kurt and Charlotte are more adventurous and free-spirited, but both couples have complicated relationship issues lurking beneath the surface. As alcohol is consumed, pot is smoked, fatigue sets in and inhibitions are shed, some of those issues rise to the surface, leading to a night that often transforms into a sort of group therapy session.
All four of the actors are well-cast, starting as simple types and revealing their complexities as the film proceeds. Additionally, all four actors bounce off each other in interesting ways, as various pieces of their personalities inspire them to connect or put up defenses. Schwartzman is particularly good as Kurt, one of those simultaneously charming and insufferable peacocks that Schwartzman is so good at essaying. There's also something really interesting about Godreche's turn as Charlotte: despite her completely uninhibited behavior, there's something in her eyes that suggests she's not actually quite as comfortable with that behavior as she seems to be.
Clocking in at an admirably lean 79 minutes, The Overnight gets right to the heart of the story quickly and doesn't waste much time piddling around once the whole thing has climaxed (no pun intended). It's very easy to imagine a version of this film that pads the front and back of the story to give the whole thing a more conventional shape, but Brice has no interest in wasting time. At all times, he maintains steady control of the film's tone, pulling us into the hypnotic strangeness of this experimental, funny, confession-filled night and finding precisely the right moments to toss a bit of cold water in our face. Between this and his clever horror film Creep, Brice is clearly a filmmaker worth keeping an eye on.
Rating: ★★★½ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 79 minutes
Release Year: 2015