‘The Overnight’
Director:
Patrick Brice
Stars: Taylor Schilling, Adam Scott
Rating: R
4 (out of 5) Globes

You might think you know where “The Overnight” is going. A normal married couple — Emily and Alex (Taylor Schilling and Adam Scott) — spend an evening with Kurt and Charlotte (Jason Schwartzman and Judith Godreche), a weirdo married couple. The weirdos are weird, even before they put on a commercial starring Charlotte in which she bares her boobs. The normals are creeped out. They thus learn a valuable lesson in conformity and not straying far outside prescribed norms, and definitely won’t hang with the likes of Kurt and Charlotte again because ew.

Or that’s what would happen in another version of “The Overnight,” even one made three or even two years earlier. Instead, Patrick Brice’s four-actor chamber comedy not only goes in a different direction entirely but takes the very idea of heteronormativity as its subject. It doesn’t pick one side or the other but rather keeps swinging back and forth, just as Emily and Alex find themselves both freaked and intrigued by their new friends. Sometimes both — or just one of them — is turned off by Kurt and Charlotte’s free-spiritedness; other times they find themselves surprising even themselves with how willing they are to see how far afield their boundaries lie.

This is an idea explored in “Humpday,” which starred “The Overnight” producer Mark Duplass. This one is debatably even more willing to push things, and to push things while staying funny. There’s a mid-film set piece involving a certain dance designed to encourage theater-wide howls. But the sequence doesn’t do what most films like it do and crawl back at the end to a more comfortable position. Comedies that vie for edge tend to wind up revealing their secret, sometimes unconscious conservatism. “Knocked Up” is a raunchy, dirty comedy that preaches family first. “The Overnight,” meanwhile, is a sometimes dirty comedy that sincerely and wittily explores the anxieties that involve adopting genuinely progressive lifestyle choices. It entertains the notion that maybe Kurt and Charlotte may be onto something, even as it acknowledges how odd that feeling can be, even for those who are perhaps freakier than they realized.

That it does this while being funny is all the more impressive. It’s great fun watching Schilling and Scott navigate through being nervous and turned on, just as it’s fun watching Schwartzman and Godreche play with their characters’ own clandestine unease. There’s even, in the finale, one of the better plant-and-payoffs in memory. The very tension in the film — the pendulum swing around being normal or outre — is itself funny, as well as thrilling, lending shape to an indie that could have easily been sloppy and flabby. Like a lot of Duplass and Duplass-produced fare, “The Overnight” isn’t even 80 minutes, but whereas films like “Jeff, Who Lives at Home” and “Safety Not Guaranteed” seem to wrap up just when things are finally getting interesting (or just need an actual third act), “The Overnight” is simply succinct and neatly packed. It lasts just as long as it needs to and crams into a tight space a whole morass of wild emotions — feelings given surprising free rein to fly about in all their messy glory.

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