You may walk away from The Overnight forgetting the characters’ stories, but you’ll never—ever—forget their penises. Before you raise eyebrows, attempt empathy: I went to see The Overnight at Lincoln Center, New York’s most venerable art institution, primarily serving audiences aged 75 through dead. So imagine what it must have felt like for me to watch Jason Schwartzman’s skyscraper-sized dick flop around, while sitting next to a group of people who appeared to have fallen out of The Second Best Marigold Hotel. “Oh my goodness!” shouted the 400-year-old virgin next to me. And while side-by-side package comparisons only take up about 10 minutes of the movie, they epitomize the heart of the sexual anxiety that drives the sometimes misguided, but ultimately lovely and clever, story forward.
Produced by borderline-indie-bros the Duplass brothers, The Overnight starts with a secondhand premise. Emily (Taylor Schilling) and Alex (Adam Scott) are a young married couple with a baby who recently moved to HELL/a comfortable California suburb. As you can imagine, having a baby has caused real damage to their already insipid sex life, a problem we need to pretend to care about in order to get the through the movie. One day, Schilling and Scott meet Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) in the park, who invites them over for dinner with his wife on the grounds that he wants to “be their friends,” not “screw them from behind.” It takes about 10 minutes to discover Schwartzman’s real agenda, and the rest of the movie is dedicated to carefully exploring everyone’s textbook sexual anxieties, including: homosexuality, small penises, and enormous, gaping buttholes.
In the hands of less competent artists, The Overnight could have sunk into thankless obscurity. But Patrick Brice, who directed and wrote the movie, is a–thankfully–deeply observant and adept comic writer. Schwartzman isn’t made to be just a standard Google Glass douchebag: he’s warm and actually charming and ugh, has a really nice house. Yes, he’s an upper-class dilettante, with hands in “art,” “architecture,” and “breast-pump porn.” But he’s one of those rich people who’s so comfortable in life he’s able to live it blissfully, without ironic quotes. You want to hate Schwartzman because he’s a grown man with shoulder length hair hidden under a platonic Hasidic Jewish hat. But you can’t, because the actor and the writer-director have sheltered him with a hefty dose of empathy. LAME.
While the other actors hold their up end of the bargain, other characters from The Overnight are a little less colorful and a little more functional. At the risk of inciting an internet riot/maybe one Facebook comment, I’ve never been a huge fan of Adam Scott (like him, don’t love him), and I find his “thirty-something nerd” persona tires — quickly. Still, “man-dancing around with anxious dick” is probably the role he was born to play. Schilling does a great job making her “sexy and skeptical” face, and Charlotte (Judith Grochere) pumps new breastmilk (that’s not just a metaphor) into the bicurious European housewife archetype. Overnight might fall into the fake-indie-bro genre, but its writing and performers help it rise from its Microsoft Word template.
Where Overnight starts to deteriorate is when it starts to take itself seriously, bridging the gap between romantic comedy and marital drama. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never found the idea of a foursome—the looming threat of The Overnight–to be that innovative or novel. At least once a week, I get a call from a half-friend telling me about “something crazy that happened!!!!” which inevitably turns out to be a threesome with two other terrible people. I go to comedy shows where people tell “insane stories” about their wild threesome in Thailand (not insane–illegal) and turn on Internet dating websites to discover “crazy couples” who love cooking, rock climbing … and boning hot lesbians! Let’s be clear: you are all boring. And while I celebrate the threesomes and foursomes, I absolutely, steadfastly refuse (in 2015!) to believe the practice is enough of a shared cultural anxiety to thrust a story forward.
Sure, complaining about group sex might seem like a self-indulgent tangent, but it’s a real problem for a story that takes the threat so seriously. Because when the moment finally comes for everyone to pull their pants down, for the literal and metaphorical climax of the movie, you can’t help but feel painfully indifferent. Scott and Schilling’s pain feels luxurious and petty, and the ultimate reveal—that they sometimes want to bone other people—simplistic. Of course everyone wants to have sex with everyone else, but I feel like I learned that around the age of negative four. Perhaps if the Duplass brothers had spent more time developing the couple’s ennui, audiences would have empathized more. As it stands, you can’t help but silently plead for more comedy, less criticism, and 1,000 monster-truck dildos to come flying in on angel wings, just to keep things interesting.
None of this is to take away from a movie that has such a deep respect for dialogue, or that otherwise explores real (and shared) sexual anxieties. Schwartzman and Scott do an excellent “Compare & contrast” essay on their relative penis sizes, in a way that feels—get ready for it—grown-up. Our culture (and some comedy shows I’ve been to recently) still shame men for having small penises, sometimes branding it as an actual form of female empowerment. Ridiculous, toxic, no thank you. To the director’s credit, The Overnight does explore the men’s homoerotic tendencies, without then marginalizing them as “homos.” Still, the film seems a little less interested in their female protagonists’ sexualities (do they like … gay stuff?), but the director’s attempt feels real, even if their execution (you bet they like gay stuff!!) feels lacking.
Go see The Overnight. Early reviews called it “uncomfortable,” but outside of Vince and Laremy and maybe half of someone else, movie critics are typically 12,000 years old, and the material in here honestly isn’t threatening. Maybe I feel this way because I live in Brooklyn, which sometimes feels like a giant, polyamorous hot tub full of sh*tty NYU grads. Either way, I was fine, and you’ll be, too. The Overnight is a funny, modern movie about boring, ancient anxieties. It’s a big dick joke wrapped in a small story that’s genuinely worth a listen.
Heather Dockray is a writer and storyteller living in Brooklyn, NY. You can see more of Heather’s work at www.heatherdockray.com, follow her on twitter @Wear_a_helmet, and email her at email@example.com if you aren’t from Moveon.org.