22 June 2015

"This Is California, Maybe This Is What Their Dinner Parties Are Like"

Patrick Brice's new film The Overnight is the kind of movie I might not have paid to go to see, but I got a ticket to a free preview screening of the film yesterday morning and decided it was at least worth the trip to Stratford. There are some good lines in the script, but I felt that it didn't quite strike the right comic balance: it wasn't funny enough to be a comedy or serious enough to be a drama.

In some ways, The Overnight reminded me of Roman Polanski's Carnage — two couples are brought together by their children and spend a day in each other's company. Of course, in Carnage, everything goes all Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? pretty quickly, whereas the plot takes a rather different turn in The Overnight, but both feel rather stagey, almost all of the action taking place in a single house. In Carnage, though, the fine acting performances elevated it for me, whereas two of the four central actors in Brice's film — Taylor Schilling and Jason Schwartzman — often irritate me on screen, so perhaps I was predisposed to like it less.

Emily (Schilling) and Alex (Adam Scott) have just moved to Los Angeles from Seattle, and feel that they should start to make some friends. Their young son R.J. (R.J. Hermes) is invited to a birthday party where he meets a boy called Max (Max Moritt). Max's father Kurt (Schwartzman), the self-declared mayor of the neighbourhood, takes a shine to Alex and Emily and invites them over to his house for dinner that evening. They show up clutching R.J. and a bottle of wine, which, as they pass through the gates of the beautiful mansion, is far too cheap.

Inside, they meet Kurt's beautiful French wife Charlotte (Judith Godrèche), and as the four adults and two kids sit down to dinner, they all get on swimmingly. When the children start to grow sleepy, Alex and Emily say that it's time to go home, but Kurt suggests — insists, in fact — that they put the kids to bed upstairs and allow the adults to continue having fun downstairs. And that's when the evening takes a turn for the, er, unusual. Kurt — a rich and mysterious artist / water-filter salesman — brings out his bong, and the two couples begin to get to know each other better. "This is California, maybe this is what their dinner parties are like," Alex murmurs to his wife.

Perhaps better than Emily and Alex would have liked, as they are subjected to a rather questionable DVD of Charlotte's latest 'acting' experience and Kurt reveals his — surely rather niche — artwork. In fact, as well as getting to know the other couple better, Emily and Alex begin to learn things about each other, as secrets are revealed and insecurities and inhibitions are stripped away in a drugged-up, boozed-up haze. "I'm firing on cylinders I didn't even know I had," Alex says when Emily suggest that they make a getaway.

Brice's film is a based on an interesting premise, and it was, in places, quite amusing, although more darkly comic than rom-com. Its 1h20 length was also a blessing — I'm not sure I could have stomached more time in the company of any of them. Godrèche's performance was the most nuanced and her character the most interesting, whereas the others seemed to be playing the same characters they always play: the quirky egotist (Schwartzman), the self-absorbed whiner (Schilling) and the smart and wry but often insecure worrier (Scott). Maybe with stronger performances, The Overnight could have been more likeable, but I found it somewhat lacking in laughs and just the wrong side of uncomfortable.

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