AUSTINITES: SPECIAL Q&A WITH WRITER DIRECTOR PATRICK BRICE SATURDAY, JUNE 27TH AT REGAL ARBOR CINEMA, GREAT HLLS FOLLOWING THE 5:20 p.m. SHOW
‘THE OVERNIGHT’ SYNOPSIS:
Alex, Emily, and their son, RJ, have recently moved to Los Angeles’ Eastside from Seattle. Feeling lost in a new city, they are desperate to find their first new friends. After a chance meeting with Kurt at the neighborhood park, they gladly agree to join family pizza night at the home. But as it gets later and the kids go to bed, the family “playdate” becomes increasingly more revealing and bizarre as the couples begin to open up.
Writer/director Patrick Brice’s second feature is a painfully funny take on thirty^ something sexual frustration and parenthood. Featuring memorable lead performances by Taylor Schilling, Adam Scott, Jason Schwartzman, and Judith Godrèche, each actor nimbly balances the script’s sudden emotional turns from surprising honesty to complete embarrassment. Produced by Gettin’ Rad and the Duplass Brothers, THE OVERNIGHT tells a complex story of universal inadequacies.
Building The Project
After having a hit last year with the indie thriller Creep, which made a splash at its SXSW premiere, it was a no^brainer that producer (and Creep star and co^ writer) Mark Duplass and writer/director Patrick Brice were going to collaborate again. It was just a matter of finding the right project. As with Creep, the goal was to find an indie^friendly story that could be made quickly and simply; but unlike with Creep, in the case of his next project Brice realized he was interested in exploring a new tonal terrain: comedy. “I’ve always been interested in comedy and have secretly wanted to make something in that genre for a while,” Brice explained. “I was thinking of movies like After Hours with these long journeys into the night and was inspired by the idea of making a funny movie that plays with darker elements with a nighttime setting. I had just come out of a dark place while making Creep with Mark, so the idea of combining those elements into a comedy was exciting to me.”
With a tonal idea in mind, Brice began to write The Overnight – a story about two 30something couples with young children who share an evening together that begins normally enough with dinner during their children’s playdate but becomes progressively more bizarre as the evening goes on and the host couple exposes their guests to new activities that are alternately exciting and strange, leading the visiting couple on a journey of self^discovery. That visiting couple, Alex and Emily, are new to Los Angeles and looking to make new friends all the while trying to convince themselves they’re still cool. While their hosts, Kurt and Charlotte, are undeniably cool – wealthy, well^dressed, with great taste in art and unusual hobbies. “The film came from seeing friends of mine who are in their mid^30s and who are maybe five years into marriage, who are just now having kids ^ and my desire to look into that particular shift. You find yourself taking care of your kids and your family and throwing your social^life out the window. I wanted to make a movie that explores that tension, what happens when you fight against that impulse and have a little fun.”
When it came time to cast the picture, finding the right actors was crucial to properly executing the film’s balancing act between comedic and darker tones. Adam Scott reacted positively to the role of Alex – so positively, in fact, that he and his wife Naomi came on board the film as producers as well. “I’d wanted to work with Mark for a long time, ever since I saw The Puffy Chair and Baghead,” Scott explained. “Naomi and I read the script and it was just perfect; it’s just sort of this perfectly contained story that you hope and feel is busting at the seams.” “The script was weird and totally tricky, but interesting and spoke to us as parents and as individuals who’ve lost themselves, maybe, in parenting,” Naomi added.
With Scott on board to star and produce, the attention turned toward the other lead roles. Taylor Schilling was fascinated by the role of Emily and came on board to play Alex’s wife. “I’d never really read anything like this script,” Schilling remembered. “I thought it was a very tender, lewd thing. It was really interesting, because Emily wasn’t closed off. She wasn’t afraid of exposing herself to the new world Kurt and Charlotte open her and Alex up to, and she wasn’t judging it.” Jason Schwartzman’s decision to join the film as Kurt was instigated, in part, by a particularly strange coincidence. “I had just gotten sent the script, but I hadn’t read it yet, and I was on my way to physical therapy, and Taylor Schilling happened to be at the same place, totally randomly. She asked if I’d read the script, and I said no, that I was going to read it after. Taylor was so lovely and beautiful and charming, and genuinely seemed so passionate about the movie. It was a weird, strange moment. Then I started reading the script and I instantly I loved it, because I had no idea where it was going. And every time I was like oh, maybe I have a feeling about what’s happening, it would go maybe in this direction… but in a very odd way, or a way that I didn’t expect, it would not go there at all. What I really loved about it was this strange combination of broad humor combined with this very sincere sensitivity that you don’t typically see in a movie that has more raunchy humor. So it was odd. I’d never read anything with that kind of a split in the tone.”
Judith Godreche joined the cast early on as Charlotte. “Judith was actually one of the first to read the script. She and Mark had been talking to each other already about working together and I had happened to write a role that called for a French woman.” Said Brice. “She read it and loved it and was incredibly supportive from the get go.”
It was, for Brice, a dream cast. “The way the parts were written was intentional, with readings and space open to adjust for the actors’ personality, that’s how I like to work. The best way to get a performance out of someone is to engage them and figure out what their strengths will be, then shine a light on those. In picking particular actors, one of the biggest things for me was an understanding of what we were going for tonally. I wanted natural performances. Adam Scott is one of the most talented improvisers I’ve ever worked with. He completely understood it and brought a pathos to it. With Taylor, I knew her character was going to be a kind of an anchor for the audience. In the cliché version of these movies the woman becomes this nag when her man^child husband tries to have fun. I was very aware of that cliché going into it and wanted to make a point to make her the voice of reason, but make sure she was going on her own nuanced journey at the same time. In terms ofJason, I’m really excited about his performance in the movie where he’s taken on a different role, this kind of sweet antagonist. He has such a heightened personality to start with. His presence in the movie throws the other couple and the audience in a loop.”
Going on The Overnight
The Overnight begins with things getting intimate right away – we’re thrust into a sex scene between Alex and Emily. “I wanted to start the film off with the audience being taken aback, being thrown into the most intimate moments in this couples’ lives. Their sexual relationship has reached a level of comfort where it’s become sort of routine. Ultimately, they don’t realize this comfort and complacency with their relationship is a problem until they are forced to deal with it later in the movie.”
What forces Alex and Emily to deal with the inertia in their marriage is a social invitation from a couple they meet on the playground, Kurt and Charlotte. Their son has befriended Alex and Emily’s boy, so Kurt and Charlotte invite the new^ to^town family over for a playdate and dinner. Scott saw the invitation as a big opportunity for the couple. “At the beginning of the film I think Alex and Emily are out to sea a bit, not really sure where their roots are in this new place. They are looking for something solid that they can grab onto, socially.” Kurt and Charlotte’s invitation is exactly that. Although, when Alex and Emily arrive at their hosts’ home they are quickly faced with their first moment of insecurity – Kurt and Charlotte live in a massive mansion. “I was trying to play with some class insecurity there,” Brice explained. “There is some pressure on Alex and Emily: this is a lower middle class couple going to hang out with an upper middle class couple, or a rich couple, that they don’t know. There’s a natural amount of insecurity that comes from that situation. It’s hard to simply make new friends at that age, you have to find real deep reasons to want to spend time with other people, especially with kids in the picture.”
Kurt and Charlotte – friendly and polite, almost to a fault – are the consummate hosts to Alex and Emily. After dinner is over, Alex and Emily assume that it is time to go. Instead, Kurt and Charlotte suggest that they put both kids to bed and continue hanging out. Somewhat intoxicated and looking to please their new friends, Alex and Emily go along with the plan. It isn’t long until they’re all smoking marijuana together and unwinding further. It is at this point that the evening begins to take a strange turn, one that’s strangely comic. Kurt explains to Alex and Emily that Charlotte is an actress, and after they inquire as to what films Charlotte has been in, Kurt puts on a video – of Charlotte putting nipple pumps on her breasts in a video about breast^milk extraction. It is not much longer before Kurt is showing Alex the various paintings he has made, which all turn out to be close^up portraits of various subjects’ anuses. Brice was interested in toeing a line between more absurd humor and more relatable situations. “I knew I wanted to have a level of absurdity to the characters. There are these broader gags that take them out of the realm of realism, but I wanted them to be absurd while still feeling believable.”
Despite the eccentricities of their hosts, Alex and Emily stay, for a number of reasons. “I think there’s a social embarrassment of leaving, or a fear about leaving,” Brice explained. Additionally, it becomes clear that while Alex and Emily are a bit freaked out by their hosts, they’re also a bit intrigued by them – perhaps as a result of their boredom with the routine their own relationship has slipped into. “I’ve certainly been in many situations where I’m a total fish out of water, and I think I was trying to bring a sense of openness to Emily’s character, alongside her fear,” Schilling explained. “What I was really interested in was withholding as much judgment as I could, because I think that Emily is game for whatever’s about to happen. I think Emily has had a pretty closeted life, and I don’t know if she even knows that this world outside of what she grew up in exists. Emily probably was in a sorority and she probably was a cheerleader, and her parents probably had simple 9 to 5 jobs. But she is ready for more, there’s a sense that there’s something more to life, and I think that that’s what she’s realizing.”
As Alex and Emily’s evening with their hosts extends and extends, the influence of Kurt and Charlotte upon them begins to grow in power. Soon enough, both characters are breaking out of their previous molds. For Alex, a turning point comes when Kurt coaches Alex to come to terms with his insecurities, particularly about the size of his penis. He cajoles Alex into joining him in a nude dance for their wives. The scene is one of the film’s comic high points, but also – as Scott pointed out – displays a character’s profound reawakening. “When you’re in a new place you have the freedom to redefine yourself, kind of like when you go off to college and you don’t know anyone. Alex goes through that awakening through the course of the film. He starts to realize that, oh yeah, I don’t have to be this way, I am discovering these new things about myself and finding a new identity.” Brice shared a similar interpretation: “I think for Alex, what’s happening is kind of like a spiritual awakening, which is being shepherded along by Kurt in a guru^like fashion.”
Emily, too, has a turning point in which she begins to move outside her comfort zone, though it’s fueled by an adventure that is perhaps even more bizarre than what’s going on between Kurt and Alex. After Kurt asks Charlotte for some whiskey, she claims that they don’t have any (a lie), and goes out to the store to get some, taking Emily along. Yet instead of going to the liquor store they wind up at a massage parlor, where Charlotte gives a stranger a handjob while Emily watches through a peephole in an adjoining room, seemingly both horrified and titillated. When they return to the house Emily appears to be more uncomfortable but Alex is enjoying himself tremendously. It is a kind of nadir for the narrative, for Brice. “I wanted that moment to be the moment when they are most pulled apart from each other, before the reconciliation comes.”
Alex and Emily begin to put the odds and ends of the evening’s activities together as the truth behind Kurt and Charlotte’s machinations is revealed. Kurt and Charlotte are not the go^go, outré, have it all together couple they have been pretending to be. Instead, just like Emily and Alex, they share the same relationship frustrations and stagnations. In an attempt to spice up their wavering sex^lives with the addition of new bed partners, the couple has been courting Alex and Emily with all the bumbling, misguided^confidence of first^time swingers. “I think a lot of bothcouples’ issues have been brought to light and articulated by the end of the night,” Brice explained. “I wanted to get to a point where once Kurt and Charlotte’s intentions are revealed, and revealed in such a way that the characters feel empathetic towards each other; that there wasn’t any serious judgment going on. Because the fact of the matter is that they all had a great night. I think at that point in the movie, exhausted as they are at 6 AM, they realize they really enjoyed each others’ company.”
As he explained, Brice was interested in combining elements of both comedy and thriller in The Overnight, the thrills being provided by the confusion as to what, exactly, Kurt and Charlotte’s motives are for the evening. But as the film reaches its conclusion it becomes clear that humor is the driving atmosphere of the proceedings. It was a refreshing register for Brice to work in. “My interest in comedy was in being able to follow any whim at any given time. It was about looking at moments and scenes and dissecting sparks that could potentially be funny. This was the first script where I felt invited to make myself laugh. It was a privilege to be able to do that and to show it to the actors, and that they would want to make this thing with me – that was an absolute dream.”