The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Overnight

Comedies are always at their best when they surprise you. The element of abruptly shifting course or spontaneously finding a joke is what evokes the biggest laughter. The Overnight is one of the most surprising comedies of recent years. At first glance, it appears to be little more than a dirty joke movie; as it goes on, though, the film reveals itself to be a knowing observation of what happens in a marriage during times of transition or stagnancy. Some taboo topics are mined for humor, yet they work because writer/director Patrick Brice plays them for realism rather than shock value.

Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling play Alex and Emily, a sexually-frustrated couple who have recently moved to Los Angeles with their young son. The change has been difficult, as they haven't been able to make any friends in their new city. That looks to change on the playground one day, when they meet Kurt (Jason Schwartzman), the father of a boy their son connects with. Kurt is a little weird, but undeniably friendly. He invites everyone over to his house for a play date. Once there, he and his wife Charlotte (Judith Godreche) suggest that everyone simply stay the night since they're all having so much fun. As the evening wears on, Alex and Emily discover that their hosts are considerably less than normal. Kurt is an artist with a penchant for painting human sphincters, and Charlotte is an actress in fetish videos. That's just the start of things.

The brilliance of The Overnight is that, despite its raunchy R-rated premise, it refuses to simply be a dumb comedy. There's a much more interesting hook, which is that Alex is so desperate to make friends and feel “cool” again that he becomes susceptible to Kurt's increasingly questionable instigation. After being loosened up with some booze and pot, he reveals his most personal insecurity to the group. Kurt encourages him to embrace it, leading to a deeply awkward (and, for the audience, riotous) swimming pool scene in which Alex tricks himself into thinking that he's experiencing some kind of psychological breakthrough. His liberation isn't real, though, and Emily keeps trying to point this out to him, to no effect. She, meanwhile, is stuck attempting to extricate her husband from the clutches of this bizarre, seemingly moral-free couple. And just when you think you have that all figured out, The Overnight drops a few more surprises that make you wonder which couple is actually the more messed up of the two.

Much of the comedy comes from the outrageous situations Alex is led into by Kurt and Charlotte. They involve sex, substance use, provocative art, nudity, and other things it would be a spoiler to specify. Adam Scott and Jason Schwartzman – two of the most committed and fearless comic actors working today – mine laughs from playing these embarrassing, unexpurgated moments. That said, the biggest laughs in The Overnight come from Orange Is the New Black star Taylor Schilling, who is absolutely hilarious as Emily. (Many, many more comedies for her, please!) Schilling takes what is essentially a straight-woman role and makes it the funniest thing in the whole movie. Giving a flawless slow-burn performance, she portrays myriad variations of frustration, exasperation, and bewilderment. The expressions she casts in any given scene are priceless, as they convey Emily's sheer horror in watching her husband so willingly self-delude himself. Schilling is the heart and soul of the story.

The Overnight is ultimately not about a kooky couple corrupting a more normal one. It's really about the way people can feel as though they've lost something after fully becoming a grown-up. If you're secure in yourself, that transition is not only welcome, it's also healthy and appealing. If, on the other hand, adulthood doesn't pan out quite as perfectly as you imagined it would, you can start to feel as though your spirit is being inextricably lost. Alex has no friends, can't entirely satisfy his wife in bed, and is emasculated by his own insecurities. He therefore desperately accepts any false indication that he's finding his way back to some kind of substance. Emily sees right through the charade, in part because she herself is seeking something similar. So are Kurt and Charlotte, in their own way.

The Overnight has a handful of scenes that make you do the laugh/gasp combination, so crazy are the happenings in the plot. At the same time, there is something oddly touching about the movie's portrait of marriage, especially the recognition that good spouses have one another's backs in times of spiritual crisis. Even if you've never had friends ply you with weed and get you to cross over your own moral boundaries, you're likely to identify with the way Alex and Emily search for that stable feeling marriage and maturity promise but don't always deliver without effort.

( 1/2 out of four)

The Overnight is rated R for strong sexuality, graphic nudity, language and drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes.

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