Couples' Night-in: "The Overnight" slight but surprising and nimbly acted

The Overnight (2015)
80 min., rated R.

As it should go with any film, "The Overnight" probably works best not knowing a thing about it and just taking this recommendation's word for it. You never know where it's going and you never mind being in the pleasure of only four characters. In his follow-up feature to his debuting found-footage horror film "Creep" (which is getting a Netflix release on July 14th), writer-director Patrick Brice spins 1966's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and 1969's "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice" into a frank but uncomfortably amusing slice-of-life indie, a comedy for adults in the mumblecore mode. It goes to the edge without going too far, thwarts expectations and then sometimes plays right into them. There is squirm-inducing tension in the delightfully awkward humor and unpredictability of it all, but once the night comes to an end, there is also a bit of a slightness to what we're supposed to take away.

Uprooting from Seattle to Los Angeles, Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling) are trying to keep their sex life alive, even with a young son, RJ (R.J. Hermes). They aren't only sexually frustrated, but they don't really know anyone and are looking for new friends, people whom they can relate to. In the park, they meet Kurt (Jason Schwartzman), a cool guy whose son Max (Max Moritt) hits it off with RJ, and welcomes the new couple over to his house for a playdate and pizza night. When they arrive, they meet Kurt's French wife Charlotte (Judith Godrèche) and have a relaxed dinner. Once they put the kids to bed, things between Emily and Alex and Kurt and Charlotte get free-wheeling and European as the night of "parental bliss" progresses. Could Kurt and Charlotte become the closest friends the new couple need?

Beautifully acted without exception by the perfectly cast foursome, "The Overnight" is just like spending a night over with Alex, Emily, Kurt and Charlotte. Adam Scott has always been a reliable straight man to the over-the-top goings-on in a comedy, and here as Alex, he gets to be fearless, particularly in a poolside-set scene where both he and Kurt bare their tiny and well-endowed prosthetics, respectively. By the end of the night, Alex has a catharsis, as he is able to let go of his insecurities. Taylor Schilling (Netflix's "Orange Is the New Black") turns out to be the film's secret weapon, proving herself to be a nimble reactionary performer, and as Emily, the actress makes her a smart woman who knows the night spent with Kurt and Charlotte is about to get weird and yet she's curious enough to see it through. Emily is most identifiable and just plain priceless in the way she reacts to the strange goings-on with Kurt and Charlotte, who might have looser definitions of friendship. As the adventurous Kurt, who casually shows Alex his abstract paintings of sphincters, Jason Schwartzman shines when it comes to seducing and keeping one on his or her toes. He is clearly up for anything, and as Kurt's wife Charlotte, an alternately effervescent and kooky Judith Godrèche gets up to his level.

Child-rearing putting a damper on the parents' sex life is not a novel idea, particularly in the arena of independent films. Set over the course of one evening, "The Overnight" is brisk at not even a full 80 minutes. Within that time, the film not only has one of the funnier scenes of full-frontal male nudity that isn't just mined for comedic shock. It also has something to say about uprooted marrieds trying to hold on to their fun, ready-to-party side and stretch their boundaries a bit to mitigate the stagnancy in their lives. Prizing character interactions over plot, writer-director Patrick Brice clearly loves all four of his characters and never judges either couple. From the start, the viewer is in the shoes of Alex and Emily, who aren't a normal couple by the conventional standards. The husband stays at home, and the wife is the bread winner. Once they (and, by the extension, we) first meet Kurt, there's something progressive and ingratiating about him when he welcomes the new couple to their house. There's a loose, conversational quality to the film, allowing the surprises to reveal themselves organically. Once the elephant in the room is out and the sun comes up, "The Overnight" feels like it could go on even longer than it does. Even if it won't be a night to remember forever, brevity is a good thing, and so is a sharp mix of insight and laughs.