Film Reviews

MISE EN SEAN – <i>The Overnight</i> (2015)

MISE EN SEAN – The Overnight (2015)

Sean Hanson

July 3rd, 2015


There’s a dinner party in the last half of Robert Altman’s 1993 anthology film Short Cuts at which two couples, one who attends merely out of a sense of obligation and another torn apart by an admission of adultery just hours before, learn to let go, set on the path to pagan revelry and forgiveness by booze and a birthday clown’s makeup kit. It’s a strange, short, squirmy comedy of manners that’s often neglected in synopses of Short Cuts — sandwiched, as it is, between more disturbing, more deadpan stories — but it’s also one of my favorites.

In The Overnight, writer/director Patrick Brice sustains that tone for 79 minutes. Brice cold-opens with a brutally honest sex scene, in which Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling) navigate a minefield of insecurities on their journey to morning orgasms — more of a race, really, to see who can finish before their young son interrupts them. Later, at the park, their son makes a new friend, whose father, Kurt (Jason Schwarzmann), high-pressures them into a playdate/dinner party so he and his wife, Charlotte (Judith Godrèche), can welcome these Seattle transplants to Los Angeles.

Politeness, of course, dictates that they accept … and accept again when Kurt and Charlotte ask if the playdate/dinner party can turn into a sleepover/bong party, despite their growing sense that something isn’t quite right with the hosts. I hesitate to describe any more of the plot because — just as he did in debut, Creep — Brice demonstrates a knack for keeping us guessing on multiple fronts. Suffice it to say, the aforementioned sex scene isn’t the most uncomfortable sequence in the film.

While watching The Overnight, I kept drawing comparisons to other film and filmmakers — the frontrunners were either “Diet Neil LaBute” or “Eyes Wide Shut with dick jokes” — but those comparisons are entirely unfair, as Brice’s approach is ultimately far less nihilistic. He urges us to see the good in people, no matter how much we might squirm while watching individual scenes bear foul fruit. And, considering that Creep was (for the most part) a two-man show, it’s exciting to watch Brice flex some feminist muscle: Schwarzmann may turn in the showiest performance here, given that he’s the ridiculous object of satire for most of the film’s runtime, but Emily and Charlotte, forced to face some hard truths about their relationships with men, provide the film’s strongest observations —  even after the film veers, briefly and unconvincingly, into The Piano Teacher/chilly European sex drama territory.

Elsewhere, critics have described The Overnight as a sex comedy. That’s true, I guess, in that it’s a comedy about sex, but the film is more concerned with quiet insights into relationship dynamics and blistering attacks on upper-middle-class bohemians than it is with jokes about bodily fluids or farcical bed-hopping shenanigans. Those insights aren’t particularly profound, but Brice does have a sneaky way of painting his characters in broad strokes and skewering them for their privilege and pretensions — Kurt is a fedora-wearin’ shill for Whole Foods, Egyptian cotton robes, and the joys of dabbling — before zooming in on the details that make them human, complicated and lovable even at their worst. He challenges you to see a little bit of yourself in his creations.

The strategy works, leading to an unexpectedly tender climax. Days later, I still think of The Overnight’s denouement, which handles what might have been a lurid development with a kind of generosity, sensitivity, and sincerity that separates this one from the pack. After decades of indie films that, to varying degrees, celebrate jaded young urbanites as they tear each other apart with witty post-baccalaureate barbs, here’s a film that successfully balances the acid one-liner against the the sweet, silent gesture. Like last month’s I’ll See You in My Dreams, this otherwise minor film — for Brice, I’m sure it’s just a rest stop on the road to greater achievements — gains import simply by giving good people real problems and trusting them to see their way through to the other side.

This one just happens to feature a lot of graphic nudity.

The Overnight begins its run at the Bijou Metro. Click here for showtimes.

Sean Hanson is a Eugene film critic whose work has been published by Something Awful and Front Row Central. Mise en Sean, despite being a terrible pun, is an irregular column in which he provides critical analysis of films screening locally.

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