When the raunchy comedy The Bronze premiered last week, there was a lot of attention, maybe even an undue amount, paid to an absurdly acrobatic sex scene between gymnasts. It was definitely outrageous — which isn’t the same thing as funny. Adam Scott and Jason Schwartzman’s striptease in The Overnight, on the other hand…now there’s a moment worth talking about.
Let’s back it up for a second: Emily (Orange Is the New Black‘s Taylor Schilling) and Alex (Parks and Recreation‘s Scott) have just moved from Seattle to L.A. with their young son. She’s a hard-charging career woman, he’s a stay-at-home dad, and their sex life leaves a little something to be desired. Pretty standard stuff, but when they meet oddball Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) at a local playground and he invites them to dinner with his wife Charlotte (French actress Judith Godréche), you expect things to get weird.
And they do, though writer-director Patrick Brice totally upended our expectations as to how, exactly, the weirdness would unfold. In a less imaginative rendering, this would be a bourgeois comedy of manners — and when Charlotte gently points at that only in America do children dictate when the adults’ fun is over, it looks like this might be where the narrative is heading. Instead, the foursome loosens up with some wine and weed, and Emily and Alex overlook certain of the couple’s idiosyncrasies in the interest of making new friends. Schilling and Scott do a great job, for instance, reacting with just the right mix of discomfort and curiosity to Kurt’s acrylic paintings of anuses, as if simultaneously thinking: At least he’s not a Scientologist, right? (Also, no one does pretentious eccentricity better than Schwartzman these days, whether he’s going for dour à la last year’s Listen Up Philip or just delightful.)
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It’s not until halfway through the film that Emily notes the vibe has gone from “freewheeling California” to “swingers,” and by then it’s obvious that Brice is not trying to subject anyone to the traditional girls-gone-lesbian fantasy. In another subversion of the script, Kurt helps Alex deal with a debilitating physical insecurity that we did not see coming. The two disrobe and dance while their wives watch from the hot tub. The gender reversal probably shouldn’t be as audacious as it was, but both actors put their all into it, even if neither actually put “it” out there. At the Q&A following the film, it was very important to Scott, less so to Schwartzman, that the audience know they were both wearing prosthetics, and when you see the film you’ll know why. (The film was picked up at the festival by a distributor named The Orchard for $4 million.)
Like last year’s Neighbors, The Overnight is smarter than it ought to be, thanks in no small part to a charismatic ensemble — and executive producer Mark Duplass, who, along with his brother Jay, appears to have the Midas touch these days. Schwartzman summed it up perfectly: It’s raunch “smashed up” against tenderness, which is so much more preferable to taint jokes.