PARK CITY – The Sundance Film Festival can often focus too much on films set in New York or Los Angeles, but this year it provided a unique perspective on the latter in three very distinct films. “Dope” centers on African-American high school students in Inglewood, “Tangerine” is set in a small part of Hollywood known for transvestite hookers (as well as shining a spotlight on the city's Armenian Immigrant community) and Patrick Brice's “The Overnight” is a window into the hipster family scene in the city's Silverlake neighborhood. Radically different communities that don't always find their way on the big screen.
Well, spot that last line with an asterisk. The east side of LA has become something of a staple of Sundance over the past decade (“Beginners,” “Quinceanera,” “Afternoon Delight,” etc.). Even the Duplass Brothers, who produced “The Overnight,” set their new TV series “Togetherness” on the East Side. The expectations many have about this part of Los Angeles is just one reason why this new comedy so intriguing beyond the male lead's full frontal nudity with prosthetic penises.
Wait, you hadn't heard about the dueling penises that Alex (Adam Scott) and Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) pull out in the flick? The two actors have already spoken about it in depth and its been a staple of Brice's post-screening Q&A's here at the festival. That being said, it's really not the most interesting part of the movie.
“The Overnight” begins with the arrival of Emily (Taylor Schilling) and Alex to LA. Having previously live in Seattle, they nervous about making new friends in such an intimidating city. During a trip to the local playground, their young son befriends the son of Kurt, a local who charismatically introduces himself. Kurt is a borderline cliche of LA hipsterness with his printed shirt, sports jacket and large brimmed hat. One thing leads to another, however, and he convinces the couple to join him and his wife for a welcome to the neighborhood dinner that night.
Kurt and Charlotte (Judith Godrèche) live in a gorgeous Spanish style home (pretty much akin to a mansion in Los Angeles) and Emily and Alex are almost immediately wowed. Even if you didn't know the general plot synopsis for the movie you would quickly catch the signs that Kurt and Charlotte might be one of those more “liberal” couples you've often heard about (and we're not talking politics). The wine flows and Alex and Charlotte eventually convince their new friends to hang out past their son's bedtime (he crashes in their son's bedroom) to keep the good times rolling. Alex appears to be some sort of independent businessman and artist while Charlotte is supposedly attempting to restart her acting career. As you might expect, Alex and Emily are overly impressed by all this — remember these are the first “real” Los Angelinos they have met — and slowly become seduced by their new friends. Sort of.
One of the strength's of Brice's screenplay is he plays with the audience expectations of what will occur in the wee hours of the night. He also pays with their assumptions about who Kurt and Charlotte really are. At first they represent stereotypes about the liberal and hipster lifestyle in modern day LA. That's why for a film that takes place over the course of one night Brice is expertly able to keep your interest. Kurt and Charlotte just seem so mysterious and sexy. In reality they may or may not be something else, but Brice and his cast are able to make it titillating and funny while still keeping the characters pretty grounded.
Much of the success of the film is due to the four leads who seamlessly work the one or two outrageous moments into the story without resorting to over-the-top characterizations. Schilling, who broke through on “Orange Is The New Black,” is particularly good as the eventual voice of reason and the movie simply wouldn't work if Schwartzman and Scott didn't click on screen as much as they do. Godrèche is good, but by the end of the film you often wonder what motivated her to star in the movies on her “acting” resume.
Semi-spoiler alert: There is an eyebrow raising scene at the end of “The Overnight” after the big (and small) penis moments that will be a conversation starter for many audiences afterward. The question is whether that moment helps break these LA hipster stereotypes or reinforces them. Not what you'd expect from the dueling penises movie is it?
“The Overnight” was picked up for U.S. distribution by The Orchard and should hit theaters later this year.