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Phallo Eccentrics

Phallo Eccentrics

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The Overnight Obsesses on Penis Envy

Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling, and Jason Schwartzman | Photo Courtesy of August Images

Jason Schwartzman's 5 o'clock shadow and Groucho eyebrows makes him a perfectly comical bisexual lothario in The Overnight. As Kurt, a shady artist/entrepreneur, he only lacks a porn star moustache. But Kurt already has a porn star's dirty mind: he leads young married parents Alex (Adam Scott) and Emily (Taylor Schilling), his house guests and after-dinner partiers, to partake of his bong and dong.

The Overnight satirizes how Millennials, inheritors of the sexual revolution, can be easily seduced. It makes a joke of hipster etiquette -- a joke on themselves --when the concept of fluid sexuality is commonly accepted seemingly "overnight," yet not commonly understood. Alex and Emily don't really know who they are. They never question their sexuality -- or fidelity -- until the leering Kurt flashes his impressive penis (Schwartzman wearing a well-publicized prosthetic).

Lo and behold, the straight couple is moved beyond their insecurities and outside their safety zone. "Let me offer you a stiff one" Kurt smirks when mixing -- what else? -- cocktails. It takes Kurt's wife, Charlotte (Judith Godreche), who is French and so presumably more open-minded, to broach the topic and gather them all onto the same bed as if convening a carnal cult.


The rallying around Kurt's freak-flagpole generates The Overnight's gay content. Writer-director Patrick Brice conceives sexuality as a male prerogative -- centering on Alex's embarrassment over his own small endowment. This could be comic shtick of the Louis C.K. kind, but it also suggests homosexual fixation -- and panic. Kurt first seduces Alex through a series of Georgia O'Keefe-style anal/flower portraits that he painted based on enlargements of private porn photos. ("The Internet is a vast sea of depravity.") These raise the prospect of submission and penetration. When Charlotte takes Emily along on a sudden massage parlor jaunt, it is less about women's same-sex enticement than a journey toward male manipulation and female servitude. These sex-farceurs are all phallocentric.

By focusing generational sex mores on men's obsessions and genital fetish, The Overnight repeats male cultural privilege. (Schwartzman and Scott's acting styles resemble the stand-up comic's tendency to observe sexual behavior with adolescent sarcasm.) French philosopher Jacques Derrida coined a great phrase for this habit of talking about sex primarily through men's privilege -- the academic term "phallologocentrism."

That's a mouthful as gay poet D.A. Powell (Cocktails) might say and the problem with The Overnight is Brice's tendency to talk all around the phallus like a smarmy frat boy but noticeably without a gay artist's honesty.

The Overnight teases gay sexuality -- and the possibility of orgy as in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969). But Brice is no Paul Mazursky-level counterculture moralist, he displays the same smuttiness as in the ludicrous, unsophisticated M2M indie film Humpday and with equal artistic cowardice. When Emily takes a long, hard look at Kurt's wood, the camera hides behind her shoulder -- too timid to indulge Judd Apatow's crude promise to feature a penis in each of his movies yet not clever enough to let Schwartzman arch his randy brows at the right moment or even utter a Groucho-worthy wisecrack. But that would require the opposite of insecurity.

The Overnight is in theaters in NY and LA June 19. Watch the trailer below:

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