Not yet settled in LA, young Seattle-transplant parents Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling) optimistically embark on a pizza-party playdate with sunny Californians Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) and Charlotte (Judith Godrèche), who seem very friendly. Then very, very friendly. Their night together advances in a jumble of hang-ups and high hopes, with just enough booze, bong rips and body-image insecurities to go around. And before we know it, a coy indie sex comedy has fully disrobed, revealing—wait for it—a deep relationship drama.
Pulling this off requires a good ear for how a phrase like “We’ve tried everything” could suggest enviable adventurousness or pitiable stagnation, depending on the degree of established intimacy. The good news here is that the establishment of intimacy, with all its confusions, frustrations and consolations, is just what interests writer-director Patrick Brice, who juices this minimal scenario with maximum efficiency. Brice understands the basic weirdness of getting to know people—how ambiguity can be tense, funny, frisky and touching, sometimes all at once.
It’s easy to see the attraction here for executive producer Mark Duplass, who in recent years has fortified his modest entertainment empire partly by shepherding young indie filmmakers with similar affinities. Though Brice’s voice comes through clearly, and all the performers make his material their own, The Overnight seems innately Duplassian for its resourceful simplicity and underlying sweetness. (Brice’s low-budget thriller Creep, which he and Duplass co-wrote and in which they co-star, also has just been released on demand.)
Reportedly, The Overnight only cost $150,000 to make, and clearly this thing didn’t need a lot of overhead. It’s mostly just four people (and their kids, who go to bed early) in and around a single house. Yes, there are a couple of quick scenes at a playground and in another house, and of course there’s that one brief but notable excursion to a Thai massage parlor, but overall, the movie is very shrewdly self-contained. I’d be curious to see the line items in Brice’s budget, if only to satisfy a hunch that one of the movie’s most (relatively) significant expenditures was for a single element of art direction, namely—and this might be a mini-spoiler—the copious paintings of buttholes. Anyway, it’s nice when a sense of investment is palpable.
Characterized with tactfully exaggerated comic proportions, The Overnight also benefits from pitch-perfect casting: Each actor gets to shine. It’s fair to say this is Schwartzman like you’ve never seen him before. But really, it’s an ensemble affair, with all the boundary confusion that entails. Together, Brice’s cast has the right proportions of wit and feeling, and their shared escapade is funny and racy without ever trying too hard. Some viewers may consider this whole enterprise a tad too vanilla, but perhaps these highly evolved polyamory virtuosos can find it in their chakras to have a little patience and compassion for the rest of us.