By Paul Risker.
Film cannot escape the inevitable measure of its worth – how close the pendulum of critical and spectatorial judgment swings towards success or failure. For some, the box office gross is the measure of success, while for others the subjective uncertainty of creative merit or the satisfying warmth of a familiar story told well is the means of such measure. But applying an alternative metaphor to state this worth, film could be envisaged as a three lane highway. Caught between the slow lane of underwhelming films that fill one with a sense of disappointment and the fast lane of accomplished films that leave a lasting impression on our cinematic consciousness, runs the middle lane of compromise. In this middle lane The Overnight (2015) travels at neither a snail’s pace or whizzes on by. Rather it cruises along steadily with the confidence of knowing what kind film it wants to be and the experience it wants to create for its audience. At eighty-three minutes The Overnight is economical storytelling in a landscape in which films can sometimes feel incessantly long. The Overnight—along with Michael Lander’s Peacock (2010), for that matter—is a film that shows what can be accomplished with lean storytelling that does not exceed the ninety-minute threshold. Alternatively, to paraphrase Alfred Hitchcock’s words of wisdom to enter late and leave early, so as to not inflict those boring bits of life on the audience nor outstay one’s welcome, “what is drama but life with the dull bits cut out.”
It occurs to me in anticipation of the forthcoming statement that to say a film is well directed or well performed could be read as a diplomatic and polite sleight of hand. To its credit, The Overnight is a concise, well directed, written, shot and performed picture. This statement is intended not as a sleight of hand, but rather capitulates to the feeling of having experienced a pleasant and intimate kind of filmmaking. The characters and dialogue infuse it with a playful physicality, humour and verbal wit, and while Adam Scott and Jason Schwartzman bring their familiar brand of performance, The Overnight is within that family of films that cannot sustain itself on sheer entertainment value. It is therein made or broken on a very simple premise—a question one asks silently while either in midstream or in hindsight of whether you interacted with it on an ideas level. Did the ideas that the filmmaker was toying with engage you and lead you down contemplative avenues in search for answers to those silent questions that interact with our levels of consciousness? For The Overnight ultimately revolves around the nucleus of ideas that if we only orbit, then the film will encounter an unenviable fate in which it flounders.
The Overnight finds a way not only to have us interact with the ideas, but manages to use the day phases that bookend the film to create an effective juxtaposition that enhances the ideas that form the core narrative. The ideas Brice sets out to explore are fundamentally human sources of emotional angst and insecurities that reflect the human psyche regardless of gender. The way in which he uses the setting of the park full of families and kids bathed in sunlight following the opening sexual comedy schtick, as well as to close the film, perfectly juxtaposes the night which becomes this secluded stage for a burgeoning interpersonal relationship. The roles day and night play are in all likelihood a happy coincidence, but regardless the sunlit park echoes an idealistic and superficial image of contentment of the urban family that is upset by the night phase. Considering this is the time that instinctively we find ourselves at our most vulnerable, then the dredging up of personal insecurities and the uncertainty of where their twilight encounter is fated to end mirrors the encroaching night on day. Although it should be said that The Overnight is not without an element of gamesmanship, as Brice toys with our expectations of what we expect will be a drama filled evening, in which the quirkiness of Schwartzman’s character is an omen of a night of unexpected surprises for Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling).
If as The Greek remarked in the introspective second season of The Wire (2002-2008): “The world is a smaller place now”, then more than a decade on The Overnight belongs to a world that has shrunk further. With an introspective quality of its own, The Overnight looks beyond the fictional stage to the stage of the everyday in which celebrities are forged out of a vanishing sense of privacy, to explore how emotional insecurities and angst should remain private or within the confines of a relationship. In essence, what Brice is doing, whether he is conscious of it or not, is playing with the idea of privacy versus what should be shared. He then gives this idea weight by putting Alex and Emily on a secluded stage with the more open Kurt (Jason Schwartzman) and Charlotte (Judith Godrèche), as opposed to a more exposed setting.
Following a cause and effect pattern, The Overnight spirals towards the theme of inhibition and pushing one’s boundaries through experience. Sauntering down one of those contemplative avenues, one of the questions that has the potential to be inferred is whether it would be possible for Alex and Emily to feel comfortable with the experience that looms post-experience? To extrapolate this further, it becomes more of an ontological question because if experience is not embraced does this not lead to emotional hypothesising, and therein a restriction of a healthy exploration of oneself? Intertwined with this thread of inhibition versus openness, the film consequentially touches upon the difficulty to feel safe as one creates experiences to explore sides of one’s nature and sexuality. Arguably, Brice has crafted a film that looks to the inherent struggles that we have with human nature, our instincts and desires. This is amidst a society that nurtures moral structures that creates a sense of guilt or taboo lifestyles, rather than an openness to exploring ourselves. Mixed with our inherent struggles in moments, the comedic drama of The Overnight casts humans in a state of eternal emotional conflict, and one in which to be human is to be insecure.
While the adults are the main players on this stage, Brice creates a juxtaposition to that of adolescent youth that is intriguing in and of itself. The reason this is intriguing is the way in which he sidesteps defining either adolescence or youth as a positive or a negative. Alternatively, and almost without effort, he allows the idea to surface of its own volition in contrast to the adults that while adolescence appears to be a liberated state in which children react to the world around them, are they truly liberated if they are not more fully connected to the world as they will become with the gradual journey to adulthood? Down yet another contemplative avenue, one is left to question that while adulthood is full of emotional complications, it affords a freedom that is unbeknownst to adolescents. Invariably, this presents the supposition that both adolescent and adult are free and yet simultaneously lack absolute freedom. But one of the most illuminating questions The Overnight answers is whether people change. It is a question at the heart of ontological thought, and The Overnight seemingly reflects that by seeking interpersonal relationships what we learn about one another ultimately changes the interpersonal dynamic that inherently instigates a change in ourselves.
Come year end, The Overnight will have been forgotten, lost in the shadows of the year’s big hitters. But in contrast to the superhero and sci-fi delights, The Overnight is intimate filmmaking that tackles intimate themes that have been mined frequently within literature, film and art. In his sophomore directorial feature, Patrick Brice channels those themes through his own artistic vision. One of the most potent and rewarding aspects of storytelling is no matter how often themes or ideas have been explored, the individual has the right to channel these through their own creative voice, which in and of itself is the source of storytelling’s endurance. It is a celebration of the individual and our love of the familiar. On a closing thought, if Carol Morley’s The Falling (2015) draws our attention to film as not being dissimilar to people, then Patrick Brice’s The Overnight draws our attention to the need to understand film as a person desires to be understood – as a living breathing entity with its own mind and ideas.
Paul Risker is a critic and writer for a number of on-line and print publications, including Little White Lies, Flickering Myth, Starburst Magazine, and VideoScope. He is currently based in the United Kingdom.
The Overnight is released theatrically in the UK on Friday 26 June by Universal.