The Overnight is a small Indie drama that follows a married couple (Alex and Emily) which has recently moved to Los Angeles and are looking for new friends. They are invited to another couple’s (Kurt and Charlotte) house for a dinner party, and eagerly accept. As the night progresses, however, it becomes obvious that intentions may not be as innocent as they seem.
The movie plays as a classic “will they/won’t they?” sex comedy, but with very untraditional style and stakes. From the minute that Alex and Emily enter Kurt and Charlotte’s house, the audience is unsettled by strange, unfamiliar sexual tension. The film escalates its uncomfortable comedy throughout its runtime, with many details only revealed in the movie’s final act.
It is really difficult to stick the landing on a film like this. The premise is very promising and ripe for comedy, sure, but how do you fulfill a satisfying arc, let alone an arc for every character? It’s a movie that draws many comparisons to While We’re Young, a movie with an ending I didn’t particularly enjoy. By contrast, the ending of The Overnight is extremely satisfying, and it’s well-worth talking about. [Spoilers] from here on.
There are two core tensions of this film: 1) whether the couples will participate in some sort of sexual partner-swap, and 2) whether we, the audience, want them to. The latter puts the audience in the same uncomfortable position as the characters, and it’s what makes the movie truly fascinating.
On the one hand, the typical movie-goer knows the usual movie tropes, and unconventional sex has dire consequences. A person seeing this movie is likely somewhat open-minded about fringe sex, but only in an “it’s not for me” way. The expectation is that sexual experimentation will be the demise of our heroes’ marriage.
On some level, however, the audience wants and expects the sexual deviancy. The film is constantly pushing its characters’ boundaries, and to stay interesting, it must continue to escalate. It’s implied that for the characters to grow, they need to see this night through to its logical conclusion (even if it means destroying their relationship).
The movie pulls off this impressive juggling act by laying bare the sexual insecurities of our main couple, and later revealing that Kurt and Charlotte have insecurities of their own. Every character has something that tantalizes another: Kurt is sexually attracted to Alex. Emily is curious about Kurt’s penis size. Alex is aroused by Charlotte’s breast size. Charlotte is turned on vicariously through Emily’s voyeurism. Complicating the situation is the fact that all curiosities must be satisfied, or none can be; if one character explores without his or her partner, the whole thing falls apart. This leaves the film with only two options: foursome or bust.
So how do you end a film like this? Some options I came up with:
1) Foursome, and both couples are totally OK with it. – A happy ending, but not believable. The audience won’t buy it.
2) Foursome, and both marriages are ruined. – The characters grow as people, but no one is particularly happy about it.
3) The anticlimax. No sexual deviancy, the status quo remains. – Probably funny, but not particularly satisfying.
Instead, the movie bucks these possibilities for something much better. At the end of the night, everything suddenly clicks, leading to the sexual event that the film has been building to. All four characters are on-board and begin foreplay. However, just when things are getting hot and heavy, the film pulls the rug out with a callback to the opening scene: the children have woken up, and interrupt the intimacy at the worst possible moment. Suddenly everything snaps back to reality, Kurt runs off to take care of the kids, and the moment is lost forever. The audience may think that “Oh, well not this time, but they’ll just make it happen next week.” But no. An epilogue reveals that the event was a one-time anomaly, and that all of the characters feel super uncomfortable and have no interest in repeating it.
This ending is brilliant. It allows the characters to experience their sexual curiosities and to grow as people, while simultaneously maintaining the status quo. It gives the audience exactly what they want, but also manages to keep the story believable and the characters’ actions true. It provides the cynical subtext that while a married couple can keep a sense of adventure about their relationship, children will always bring life back down to Earth. Unlike many epilogues, The Overnight‘s is absolutely necessary, as any chance of a polyamorous relationship must be completely squashed in order to drive home the film’s overarching points. Both couples grow stronger in their love for one another rather than being pulled apart by the experience.
The Overnight is a hilarious movie with a fantastic punchline. Between this and Creep, another 2015 release, Patrick Bryce has been solidified as a new director with a lot of promise, and a particular eye towards a satisfying ending.