Editor’s Notes: The Overnight is currently out in limited theatrical release.
“Is it real or is it Memorex?” ran the tagline for the long defunct audiotape manufacturer. Memorex promised an unparalleled verisimilitude, quality, and fidelity for the everyday (i.e., unsophisticated) consumers. But all things must pass and with the advent of CDs, Memorex slipped into pop-culture irrelevancy, but the question inextricably connected to the product became something of a late 20th-century, early 21st-century rallying cry for post-modern cultural theorists – best evidenced by the virtual academic cottage industry that followed the release of the zeitgeist-redefining The Matrix in 1999 – but it lives on, albeit in significantly altered, mutated form. A similar, related question lies at the center of The Overnight, Patrice Brice’s follow-up to Creep (the latter only now getting a limited release): “Is it real or is it a prosthetic?” The answer is less important than what the question implies, what it suggests about American masculinity, circa 2105 (with the usual caveats regarding the representation and treatment of white male entitlement and/or privilege onscreen).
The Overnight falls prey to a few – some would say too many – character clichés and stereotypes.
The “Is it real or is it a prosthetic?” question doesn’t arise (pardon the pun) until well into The Overnight’s relatively brief running time. By then, The Overnight’s central couple, Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling), recent Seattle to LA transplants who finds themselves the respective objects of attention and possibly desire for an wealthy, oddball LA couple, Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) and Charlotte (Judith Godrèche), as seemingly adventurous and risk-embracing as Alex and Emily are unadventurous and risk-adverse, are faced with the not unexpected decision of how far to go, how far to give in to their alcohol- and pot-influenced desires. For Alex, a walking, breathing example of the stunted, emasculated male (he’s a house husband starved for attention, friendship, and recognition), Kurt’s slyly worded encouragements are all he needs to embrace his literal and figurative shortcomings and let “it” all hang out.
For Emily, cautious by nature and not entirely convinced of the relatively good intentions of their wealthy hosts, her long-term, safe relationship with Alex and the emotional and physical stability it represents, unquestioned and fully embraced (at one point, she tells a doubtful Alex, “I have everything I need under one roof,” a statement that implies she doesn’t, but wants to reassure herself and Alex that she does, a necessary lie to maintain domestic peace, however temporary), turns into a burden or obstacle to overcome, possibly with one or more regrets when the sun rises in the morning. But a comedy with the promise – or from another perspective, the threat – of marriage vow-breaking escapades (“swinging,” assuming anyone uses that term anymore) ultimately has to lead its central characters to the brink and possibly beyond the brink to face the concerns, reservations, and fears facing most heterosexual couples, married or otherwise. Brice handles Alex and Emily’s journey toward self-realization without resorting to sermonizing, victim-blaming, or cartoon villainy.
The source of Kurt and Charlotte’s obvious wealth becomes something of a running joke, but with each “surprise” revelation, the joke becomes increasingly unfunny.
For all of its adroit, deft exploration of a particular, peculiar strand of American masculinity and gender norms, along with a recognition of sexual desire in its multi-faceted, sometimes contradictory forms, The Overnight falls prey to a few – some would say too many – character clichés and stereotypes, specifically Kurt and Charlotte. Too often, Brice mines their contrived, artificial eccentricities for surface-deep laughs. He’s a fedora-wearing hipster with an off-kilter sense of humor. The French born and raised Charlotte never rises above the usual stereotypes about the French (i.e., a casual, guilt-free approach to anything sex-related). The source of Kurt and Charlotte’s obvious wealth becomes something of a running joke, but with each “surprise” revelation, the joke becomes increasingly unfunny. Still, The Overnight’s faults are anything but major, though certain politically engaged moviegoers will find it difficult, if not impossible, to sit through yet another modestly budgeted, indie film about the marital trials and troubles of an American couple of the bourgeois, Caucasian kind. They might have a point, but they’re also missing out on a frequently hilarious satire of what Alex and Emily (and to a lesser extent, Kurt and Charlotte) represent.
The Overnight’s’s faults are anything but major, though certain politically engaged moviegoers will find it difficult, if not impossible, to sit through yet another modestly budgeted, indie film about the marital trials and troubles of an American couple of the bourgeois, Caucasian kind. They might have a point, but they’re also missing out on a frequently hilarious satire of what Alex and Emily represent.