Bland meets bold in "The Overnight," a comedy that coyly dips its toe and a few other body parts in the new sexual revolution. With its couple-on-couple story, the movie comes across as a skittish redo of Paul Mazursky’s 1969 sex comedy, "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice," about two chummy straight married couples who end up between the sheets together. Mazursky’s dramatically shaded comedy is somewhat of a feature-long tease, despite its famous image of the four lined up in bed. (Bob and company aren’t the swingers that they try to be.) But it’s also a sharp exploration of the kind of middle-class social anxieties that vibrate through "The Overnight."
Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling) first meet Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) at a park, while watching over their son, RJ (RJ Hermes). Having recently landed in Los Angeles, Alex and Emily are worried about making new friends, especially because he’s a stay-at-home dad. She has some kind of tech job, but the writer-director Patrick Brice isn’t big on shading his characters with lived-in, believable details and, well, Alex and Emily aren’t all that memorable. They’re so nice, polite and smiley-face dull that it’s hard to imagine spending an entire movie with them even if they are played by the likable Scott and Schilling, resourceful performers who can make you believe there’s something going on with their characters even when the rest of the movie suggests otherwise.
Like some other youngish middle-class marrieds who crop up in indie film and indie-influenced television, Alex and Emily are unreservedly conventional but don’t want to be (or perhaps be seen as being) too straight in all senses of that word, as telegraphed by Alex’s 2009-era goatee and their Silver Lake address. They’re not bohemians; they’re bohemian adjacent. It’s unclear if Brice means for them to be quite this ordinary, but their banality and unease about fitting in works because it makes them nice foils for Kurt, who, by flamboyant contrast, contains scripted multitudes. That’s telegraphed both by his wardrobe (is his black, flat-brimmed hat a hipster, an Amish or a Hasidic accouterment?) and by the almost-manic friendliness that he exhibits when he first rockets toward Alex and Emily.
As the title suggests, much of "The Overnight" transpires over a long evening that begins with Alex and Emily having dinner with Kurt and his wife, Charlotte (Judith Godreche), and evolves into an increasingly raucous adult play date with a lot of sharing and two humorously, suggestively brandished penises. Other than those wagging (false) appendages and the lead actors’ expressive faces, there isn’t much to look at. With few exceptions, the movie has a dingy palette that’s familiar from lower-budget, digitally shot movies, and its trembling camerawork is best described as functional. Every so often, Brice and his team saturate the proceedings with some vivid color, including a sly, playful blue that foreshadows the story’s turn to the frisky and a red that accents a kinky detour.
By the time Charlotte’s hand is sliding across Alex’s knee, it feels as if Brice is less interested in any larger social ideas than in a faceoff between two old adversaries: the squares and the kooks. Much of the movie’s laughs are generated by Kurt, a caricature of eccentricity whom Schwartzman turns into a human being. Schwartzman always appears to be playing himself even if he’s only playing who we think he is. He’s dependably, delightfully unpredictable, and can shift fluidly from funny-ha-ha to funny-menacing, vulnerable to volatile. That’s partly because of his looks (he uses his luxurious hair transformationally the way other actors use wigs), but also because of how he deploys them, including a deadpan that can leave you wondering if it’s time to laugh or run.
"The Overnight" ends just as it starts to get interestingly messy, tapping into something real and sweetly touching. That isn’t a reference to any lovemaking but to how Brice revisits many of the same issues (sex, love, marriage, the safety of convention) that Mazursky took on 46 years ago. Curiously, "Bob & Carol" is experiencing something of a moment, having also been invoked in the finale of "Mad Men." That show ends in 1970 with Don Draper at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, Calif., where he chants "om" in anticipation of the Me Generation and its narcissism. In "The Overnight," Alex & Emily & Kurt & Charlotte stay closer to home, where, huddled together, confused and searching, they briefly follow their bliss by trading in the Me for a We.