A good cringe comedy doesn’t know when to quit. There’s a point when laughable embarrassment crosses over into deep discomfort and a point where that can be pushed into the creepy. Toying with that sort of nervous tension can take something as simple as a conversation and transform it into a rollercoaster ride of emotions and reactions that cuts as deeply as any actual physical action. The wondrously uncomfortable new film ‘The Overnight’ straddles that line as much as possible. Even if it never quite finds the right end point, the embarrassing ride is still worth taking.
Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling star as Alex and Emily, a reasonably happy married couple who recently moved out to the West Coast and are hoping to find some sort of friend to help burst their little bubble. Well fear not, lonely couple; a savior arrives in the form of Jason Schwartzman in a perfectly obnoxious hipster hat. After their kids start playing together in a park, Kurt (Schwartzman) pops up to charm the pants off the parents with an endearing air of douchiness.
When he invites the family over to his mansion for a dinner party, they meet his sexpot French wife (Judith Godreche) and enjoy a li’l wine and pizza. The kids are soon put to bed so that the parents can keep the party going, and that’s when things get strange. It kicks off when Kurt puts on a video of his wife playing with her boobies and extends into drunken swimming pool skinny-dipping, an anus based art show, and all sorts of awkward confessions. The beauty of the simple and confined plot is that no matter how certain you might be that you can guess where the story is headed, the script inevitably slips off in a slightly different direction.
Writer/director Patrick Brice’s film is deliberately small and confined. He’s working pretty much exclusively within the realm of dramatic tension, and a little claustrophobia never hurt that. As one could assume simply by glancing at the cast list, that tension is predominantly used for laughs. The movie has some wonderfully idiotic displays of arrogance, a pair of prosthetic penises representing two extremes, and a nearly limitless supply of shocked reaction shots. (Thankfully, the cast have enough of those in their repertoire to keep ’em feeling fresh.)
Brice and the cast dig up some big laughs, but they almost all come with an aftertaste of discomfort – not just in funny ways, either. The film digs into some intriguing truths about the flexible nature of honesty and fidelity in relationships, as well as self-esteem issues (of both extremes, see prosthetic penises for more) and the awkward nature of making new friends as parents. Best of all, Brice and his cast are fearless about pushing the film outside of the realm of comedy into discomfortingly real and even disturbing places. The movie always stays close to the realm of comedy, yet as the story hits its climax, viewers can’t help but wonder just how nasty things might get. It’s a testament to everyone involved that it feels like the movie could go almost anywhere.
Of course, with a film like this, casting is key. Brice nailed that down. (It can’t hurt to send around a script this good.) Adam Scott has made a career out of being the most uncomfortable man in the room, so he fits in perfectly here while also stretching into manic explosions and even some dramatic depths that he rarely gets a chance to show off. Jason Schwartzman obviously nails his hyper-confident eccentric with ease (it’s his specialty, after all), yet wisely never stretches outside the realm of believability while seeking a laugh. The women characters aren’t quite as layered, but they’re far from wallflowers. Taylor Schilling is essentially the straight woman, but she’s a vital barometer for the audience to cue in on just how fucked up things get, and the actress is always compelling in how she sizes up everything around her. Judith Godreche deliberately remains an enigma throughout and manages to do so in a way that always feels flawed and human rather than some sort of stylized mystery. Together, the foursome form a hell of a team, which is lucky since the movie hinges on their interaction and chemistry.
What might be the most impressive part of Brice’s intriguing little four-hander is how the writer/director manages to raise tension deliciously for about an hour leading to a climax that’s both unexpected and inevitable at once. In fact, the biggest bum note of the whole movie is when the filmmaker tacks on an epilogue that wraps things up a little too neatly and says a few things that would have been better left unsaid. It’s not a movie killer by any means. In fact, it’ll probably help a few viewers make sense of what they just saw through some necessary relief. It just feels like a bit of a cop-out after hitting a perfectly symmetrical end point.
Still, it’s hard to complain too much about a tiny little movie this entertaining and even surprisingly truthful (despite having a flair for the outrageous). Anyone who enjoys any members of the cast, or a good cringe, will definitely get a kick out of ‘The Overnight’. Just make sure to sit somewhere comfortable because there will be squirming.