There’s a moment midway through The Overnight when Kurt (Jason Schwartzman), a wealthy Los Angelino, disrobes poolside to reveal his exceedingly large penis, much to the chagrin of Alex (Adam Scott), a Seattle native who’s growing increasingly concerned as to whether his host is truly unhinged or if “this is what parties are like in California.” It’s an epitomizing moment for writer-director Patrick Brice’s film, not least because the member in question is clearly a prosthetic, accompanied by an excessive mound of pubic hair. The visual gag is the sell, complemented by Alex’s insecurities since, as he puts it, he has “middle school dick” compared to Kurt’s “horse cock.” Kurt’s groan-inducing comparison reveals the film’s comedic allegiances, since Brice is more driven to land cheap, body-dysmorphia cracks than fully pursue the class-based divide that gives purpose to the film’s first act.
Alex and Emily (Taylor Schilling) are squares; in the opening scene, neither can orgasm during sex, so they mutually masturbate before being interrupted by their young son, who complains that the room “smells funny.” Alex is a stay-at-home dad, while Emily is a professional of some sort, though judging from the Ikea-looking furniture and modest living space, her career isn’t affording the comfort the couple likely expected. At a playground one afternoon, they meet Kurt, who chastises them for letting their son eat gummy worms, since it “rots kids’ stomachs,” while asking if they’ve been scouting pre-school locations. Kurt claims he’s kidding, though it’s not exactly clear as to which part. Brice adeptly plays these initial scenes to the best of their awkward potential; after being invited to a dinner party and seeing Kurt’s fortress-like home, Alex rips the label from his “two-buck chuck” contribution and spins a story to Charlotte (Judith Godrèche): “It’s organic.”
Yet the film’s Buñuelian potential for harpooning the bourgeoisie is quickly dashed in favor of mumblecore antics, with improv-heavy sequences and rather meandering narrative points deflating a concentrated takedown on dinner-party manners. Nevertheless, the types are well drawn: Kurt and Charlotte dabble in the arts and seem to know a little something about everything; and Alex, with his tucked-in button-up, khaki slacks, and strategically groomed goatee, has a seemingly different definition of a pleasant evening—one that doesn’t regularly involve smoking weed and wife swapping.
In the film’s best scene, Charlotte explains that she’s an actress, which prompts Alex and Emily to offer a requisite, start-struck “wow,” insisting that they want to see a clip. The couple’s disingenuous politeness is unmasked when Charlotte’s performance involves having her bare breasts pumped for milk, which prompts their immediate discomfort. The film cunningly likens the couples through their physicality—at least when clothed. Alex and Kurt have similar haircuts and build; when Brice shoots them from behind, it can be difficult to tell which character is being shown. The same applies for Emily and Charlotte, whose comparable blond locks are clearly meant to suggest an interchangeability between the couples.
As such, Alex likes Charlotte and Emily is obviously drawn to Kurt, but Brice is able to make shockingly little of these entanglements; once the couples pair off in various settings, the film bogs down into trivial episodes that are either superficially provocative, as when Charlotte proves to Emily that her work as a masseuse involves happy endings, or simply random, most notable in an aside bit that has Alex and Kurt professing their adoration for Danny Boyle’s The Beach. Ultimately, The Overnight provides only mild fulfillment of a rather glib line of dialogue near the end of the film, which proclaims: “Try being married for 10 years and then you’ll tell me what’s nuts.”