‘The Overnight’ Is a Sure Sign That Mumblecore Has Lost Its Luster

The Overnight is one long tease without a satisfying payoff.

Whether you call it a film movement, a genre, or a mode of cinematic practice, it’s fair to say that mumblecore has lost its luster. I’m not certain when, exactly, it overstayed its welcome, but we’ve definitely seen the best that it has to offer. Not only have the first wave of mumblecore filmmakers like the Duplass Brothers and Lynn Shelton moved on to more mainstream fare, the mumblecore films released today are forgettable trifles at best and second-rate rip-offs at worst.

Mumblecore films are independent films situated within a specific historical context. In the early ‘00s, ambitious filmmakers like Andrew Bujalski and Joe Swanberg took advantage of cheap digital equipment to make films on their own terms. Most of the films are about white hipsters who search for purpose in a post-9/11 world. They are shot like documentaries, purposefully made to look amateurish, and rarely have a point to prove.

Newcomer Patrick Brice has released two mumblecore films this year. The first, Creep, is one of those found footage horror movies in which nothing horrific ever happens, and the second, The Overnight, is one of those married couple meets married couple romps in which nothing substantial ever happens. Brice is a decade late with these films, but as The Overnight demonstrates, he has the potential to be a promising filmmaker in the future, if only he could come up with more meaningful material.

At 78 minutes, The Overnight is breezy and enjoyable, but none of it adds up to anything memorable. Not quite a second-rate rip-off, The Overnight is nonetheless a forgettable trifle.

The film stars Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling as Alex and Emily, two married 30-somethings with a young son. They have just moved to Los Angeles and are looking to make friends. One afternoon at the neighborhood park, Alex and Emily’s son befriends another boy, and Alex and Emily are approached by the boy’s father Kurt (Jason Schwartzman). Kurt invites Alex and Emily to him and his wife Charlotte’s (Judith Godrѐche) house for dinner that evening.

What will happen at Kurt and Charlotte’s house, and how will Alex and Emily respond? This is the central question that the film asks, and for a while, at least, I wanted it to be answered. The evening begins typically with dinner and drinks, but soon enough, the kids are put to bed, the wine kicks in, and all hell breaks loose.

The best part of the film is the way Brice captures the unique feeling of unpredictable discovery. We’ve all been in similar situations. The more Alex and Emily learn about Kurt and Charlotte, the stranger they seem, and yet they can’t bring themselves to leave the party. Is it the lure of potential danger, the escape of routine, or something else?

Similar to Creep, the film embraces awkwardness. In one scene, for example, Kurt and Charlotte go skinny dipping, and Alex sees that Kurt is very well endowed. He is self-conscious and ashamed to take his clothes off because he is not well endowed. In order to boost Alex’s self-confidence, Kurt cheers him on like a rock star. This scene is strange, but Scott and Schwartzman somehow make it sincere. Not since Boogie Nights (1997) has prosthetic genitalia been put to such effective use.

This scene demonstrates the marriage dynamics at play. As a result of Alex’s shortcomings, Emily has her eye on Kurt. She is visibly in awe of him, and seems jealous of Charlotte. Charlotte, on the other hand, is drawn to Alex, which suggests that something might be missing in her marriage with Kurt. Meanwhile, Kurt and Alex engage in their homoerotic bromance. We suspect that the sexually dissatisfied couples will experiment with one another, but Brice is never sure how far he wants to take it.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t take it far enough. The interactions in the film are unbelievable, but that’s never been important to me. Fiction is artifice, after all. What matters more, I believe, is that the interactions have resonance. The Overnight explores ideas of marriage, monogamy, and masculinity, but ultimately, Brice never goes too far beyond the surface.

The film is one long tease without a satisfying payoff. It promises the possibility of excitement, but Brice cops out with an ending that undoes all that came before. Throughout the film, Brice attempts to offer a subversive commentary on marriage and gender, but he reverts back to standard norms in the conclusion.

The DVD comes with a few deleted scenes and a gag reel. The deleted scenes are worth watching, if only to try to understand why Brice chose to cut them. The finished film is a mere 78-minutes, and the final stretch feels rushed. It could have used a few extra scenes. The gag reel, like most gag reels, is a waste of time.

RATING 5 / 10