Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Overnight (**)

Written and Directed by Patrick Brice


Earlier this month, Grantland published a piece about new-arriving filmmaker Patrick Brice and his interesting predicament: his first two features were coming out on the same day. His first film, Creep, is a mumblecore thriller starring Brice and Mark Duplass, which got released on June 19th in select theaters, but also on VOD (it will be on Netflix by mid-July). His other film is The Overnight, a ridiculous sex comedy with a formidable cast and a lot of buzz after its successful festival run earlier this year. I mention the Grantland piece because it paints the picture of a young director with cinematic ambitions who meets powerful independent film producer Mark Duplass and is told basically to make a Duplass brothers movie. Brice, a man who sites Wim Wenders' beautiful Wings of Desire as his inspiration for becoming a cinephile, was taught that he should make his films look as uninspiring as possible. The Duplass brothers have an entire pipeline of independent filmmakers that they give voice to, and that they allow these young men (and its almost exclusively men) to find their own voice is admirable, but The Overnight is another example of Duplass as producers conceiving a filmmaker who is basically a copy of Duplass as director. The Duplass model is stooped in the belief that independent film is supposed to look cheap and shabbily thrown together - as if Cinema Verite and DOGME didn't have visual purpose. The Overnight is another film in that model and another indie that succeeds at "looking shitty".

When Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling) move from Seattle to Los Angeles with their young son, they're worried about meeting new people. At a children's birthday party, they meet Kurt (Jason Schwartzman), who also has a young son. When the two boys surprisingly hit it off, Kurt invites the new neighbors over to their house for pizza. Eager to make friends, Alex and Emily agree. They arrive and meet Kurt's wife, Charlotte (Judith Godreche), a French beauty who can't stop giving Kurt kisses on the mouth. While the children run around the house having fun, the parents get to know each other. As the night wanes, Kurt convinces Alex and Emily to let their son sleep in their son's room so the adults can continue talking; they reluctantly agree. What follows is a night of pot, booze, skinny dipping and personal revelations that forever transforms the two couples going forward. As it becomes more and more obvious that Kurt and Charlotte are more comfortable with their sexuality, Alex and Emily go through an odd sequence, first of uncomfortable dismissal, followed by a strike of competitiveness, a drive to keep the night alive, to not be the ones to spoil the party. The night gets later and later, and as Alex and Emily get more and more fucked up, the motives of Kurt and Charlotte become more and more unclear. With their boys asleep in the next room, the parents go through their own sexual revolution, learning some lessons they were unprepared for.

The Overnight's quad of actors have some real chemistry throughout the film, and Brice's script does achieve moments of true sweetness, but it's points about sexuality and marriage felt benign to me - written by someone who's more curious about this kind of lifestyle than by someone who's actually experienced it. The movie has it's fun with breast pump instructional videos and not one, but two prosthetic penises, but it never really feels provocative. Without this cast, this film and this story could have vanished very easily into the ether. The film is very similar to another Duplass brothers production from last year, The One I Love (directed by another Duplass prodigy, Charlie McDowell), which also had a pretty high concept but still felt a bit slight. Both films really struggle to get to an hour and a half - in The Overnight's case, it doesn't even make it to 80 minutes. In the end, what you have here are several workable performances searching for a plot, and the film meanders around so many tangents just to get to feature length that by the time we've reached the story's big reveal, it feels like it's come from a totally different movie. The Overnight is a movie obsessed with sex that is too shy to actually have any sex scenes (not including one at the very beginning that is actually quite funny). It builds towards a climax of incredible kink but bulldozes over it for the sake of a punchline. Maybe in his next film, Brice won't be afraid to show the full monty.

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