A contemporary riff on Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969), Patrick Brice's The Overnight ups the sexual ante (and hetero anxiety) by emphasizing same-sex attraction over old-school wife-swap. Co-producer Mark Duplass — who co-wrote and co-starred in Brice's first film, Creep — clearly exerts some influence: As an actor, Duplass had comic fun with a similarly charged situation in Lynn Shelton's bromantic Humpday, and The Overnight takes the same low-key, naturalistic approach to comedy as Duplass' writer-director collaborations with brother Jay (The Puffy Chair, Jeff, Who Lives at Home and Cyrus). Brice, however, pushes even further into the discomfiting territory that the Duplasses so provocatively explore in their terrific, bleakly funny HBO series. Togetherness: The film produces squirms and laughs in equal measure.
Recent transplants to LA, Alex (Adam Scott of Parks and Recreation) and Emily (Taylor Schilling of Orange Is the New Black) lack friends in the sprawling city, and stay-at-home-dad Alex seems especially fretful about the dim prospects for filling their pathetically empty social calendar. What luck, then, when suspiciously hyper-friendly Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) encounters Alex at the neighborhood park where their kids play and immediately extends an invitation to dinner at the home he shares with wife, Charlotte (Judith Godrèche). The gathering begins as a simple meal, but after some decidedly odd, awkward moments, Kurt manages to stretch the evening into the "overnight" with insistent offers of drinks and drugs. After tucking the children safely into bed, the adults withdraw to the pool, where Kurt and Charlotte blithely drop trou for a bracing skinny dip, urging their new friends to similarly shed their clothes and inhibitions.
Despite our supposed seen-it-all sophistication, I suspect that most in the audience will register at least mild shock at Kurt's full-frontal display of his impressively proportioned phallus. The Overnight takes obvious delight in tweaking our expectations — in a reversal of cinematic convention, the women's nudity is handled far more discreetly — but there's also a larger (ahem) comic payoff: Alex is mortified by the diminutive stature of his own micro-penis and must be coaxed out of his pants by Kurt's gentle stroking of his ego (a portent of things to come). When they both finally emerge naked and do an uninhibited, dick-waggling dance, we're as agog as their pop-eyed spouses. Of course, The Overnight isn't entirely groundbreaking in its treatment of the male member: Given the Chia-like shrubbery that serves as his pubic hair, Scott is clearly wearing a prosthesis, and Schwartzman (like Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights) has presumably had his own equipment considerably enhanced. (If not, he should consider changing his name to "Schwanzman.")
Though progressive in many regards, The Overnight turns disappointingly conservative in its conclusion. Just as the homoerotic tension between Kurt and Alex is about to be blissfully released, the long-forgotten children reassert their presence in an echo of the film's coitus-interruptus opening scene: Just as fission is about to occur, the control rods abruptly halt the reaction. And, as the film's coda makes clear, once meltdown is averted, the nuclear family is dutifully restored. But even if The Overnight stops short of climax, it nonetheless remains a potent comedy.