A seamless mix of Noah Baumbach and Adam McKay, The Overnight grapples with middle-class white people and their mid-life crises while also fundamentally understanding what small-potatoes those problems are. Writer/director Patrick Brice expertly weaves in the characters' internal struggles amongst a raucously funny house party. Going forward, the tone of his film may be the standard by which other films like it are judged, whether they're trying for comedy or not. It'll be hard to take the insecurities of the comfortable and privileged seriously after seeing them so sent up here.
Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling) are newly transplanted to LA, and have yet to make any new friends. While watching their young son at the playground, the boy begins playing with another boy, and dad Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) comes over to introduce himself. Sympathetic to their loneliness and aggressively hospitable, Kurt insists that Alex and Emily come over for dinner and drinks. They agree, and spend a delightful evening with Kurt and his wife Charlotte (Judith Godreche). After the boys go to sleep, out comes more alcohol and weed, and the party moves from the living room to the pool to the art studio to a massage parlor, before culminating in the bedroom.
Alex and Emily are the viewers' eyes and ears into Kurt and Charlotte's strange world, and Brice parcels out information about them one little bit at a time. They seem like a cosmopolitan, if eccentric, couple at first, and their large home implies they must be successful. An interlude spent putting the kids to bed gives the impression that Kurt is some kind of magician, as he's able to create a soundscape and atmosphere that immediately knocks them out. Thoroughly impressed with their home and their family, other eccentricities emerge to put a dent in Alex's and Emily's high opinion, most of which are too strange to spoil. That Brice keeps the viewer guessing up until the final moments spent at Kurt and Charlotte's home is immensely impressive, keeping the Overnight surprising much longer it needed to be.
In the Baumbach/Duplass/Shelton/insert-mumblecore-director fashion, The Overnight forces each character to confront something inside of themselves. Alex and Emily have a frustrated sex life, compounded by their son's no-knocking habit. He is also self-conscious about his masculinity, as the couple moved to LA for Emily's job, and he's stuck as the house husband for the time being. This has been a constant source of stress for both, and further developments imply that it's not purely a recent thing. Kurt and Charlotte are both revealed to be less put together than the image they put out into the world, and their marriage is based on a fundamental compromise. That Brice is able to effectively diagnose all these characters in an organic way, while also keeping the tone of the film reliably absurd and undercutting every serious moment, is a genre-exploding mixture.
The actors are mostly doing an iteration of a previous role, which doesn't diminish the comic timing on display. Each actor is able to elevate already-funny lines with their particular inflections and emphases. Scott is channeling his Parks and Recreation character, a man capable of great joy but plagued by shame. That combination of innate personal discomfort and willingness to put it away is right in Scott's wheel-house. Schilling is a more grounded version of her character in Orange is the New Black, an observer who has to voice her opinion on everything happening around her. As the night's longest holdout, she steals the film with reaction shot after reaction shot. Schwartzman isn't reaching very far for the role of worldly, effete hipster, but very few people can do that as well as he can. As this was my first impression of Godreche's work, she seemed slightly clenched at first, which I chalked up to a less-than performance, but the film eventually gives her a reason for it. As the character with the least opportunities for laughs, she made the least impression, but to come in last among these competitors is no defeat.
The Overnight is a wild success, down its winking poster. Unpredictable and hilarious, Brice is a man to watch, as this could've easily emerged from the mind of Judd Apatow. Brice actually has a leg up, as Apatow would've added an unnecessary half hour. B+