Beyond "The Overnight": 8 more great movies about swingers

Partner-swapping and four-gies pop up in dramas, farces, black comedy and more

By Gary M. Kramer
Published June 19, 2015 10:59PM (EDT)
Taylor Schilling in "The Overnight"    (Sundance Institute)
Taylor Schilling in "The Overnight" (Sundance Institute)

The new film “The Overnight” shows just how close two couples can get when they meet and spend an evening together. The shenanigans that unfold are part of a long history of films about swingers. Yet while the genres range from farce and black comedy to documentaries and serious dramas, sex between consenting adults who are married and/or dating others generally causes people to re-evaluate who they are and what they want in their relationships.

Here is a rundown of eight worthwhile films about foursomes. (And, no, that Jon Favreau-Vince Vaughn film, “Swingers,” is not included).

“Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice.” This 1969 classic is the quintessential couples-swapping film, a stinging social comedy that, although somewhat dated, somehow remains timeless. Bob (Robert Culp) is a documentarian who takes his wife Carol (Natalie Wood) to “The Institute” as part of his research for a film. Participating in an encounter group, they get deeply, deeply in touch with their feelings. Afterwards, they share their new discoveries, mostly that “truth is beautiful,” with their close friends, Ted (Elliott Gould) and Alice (Dyan Cannon). The film, co-written and directed by Paul Mazursky (his debut), is very “touchy-feely” in that the characters all feel something, and are also very touchy. When Bob confesses a one-night stand to Carol, she responds without anger or jealousy, which makes him mad. When Carol informs Ted and Alice of her husband’s infidelity, Alice becomes angry, calling them “sick.” Alice later makes her husband crazy, wanting him to remain close to her, but not wanting to be touched. Alice, the moralist, tries hard not to impose her values on her friends, but she struggles with her emotions. In arguably the film’s most moving scene, Alice recounts her feelings to her therapist, revealing a deep level of confusion, pain, anger and desire. Ted, for his part, feels guilty about a kiss he shared on a business trip, and imagines an affair. Meanwhile, Bob is surprised when he comes home early and discovers Carol is cheating on him. While the characters all discuss “experimenting with sexual freedom” and having only “physical fun” with other partners, they seize the opportunity (in a Las Vegas hotel room) for the two couples to truly practice what they preach. “What is the big deal?” one of them asks, before they agree to swap partners. Ted heads into the bathroom to do his ablutions while Bob, Carol and Alice kiss in slow motion before everyone ends up naked and in bed together in the film’s famous antepenultimate scene. The ending of “Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice” was said at the time to be a “cop out,” and perhaps at the time it was, but it now has...

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Gary M. Kramer

Gary M. Kramer is a writer and film critic based in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter.

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