From the start of Sleeping with Other People, the latest cinematic dirty limerick by Leslye Headland, things look surprisingly polite due to its intentional studio rom-com decor—proving that even the most pleasantly charming couple’s home can hide filthy and utterly depraved minds. Bless them.
After the too dark, dark comedy Bachelorette, adapted by Headland from her own play, the writer and director returns to the indie circuit and this week’s Tribeca Film Festival with the far more successful, yet equally frothy, Sleeping with Other People. And as a comedy that’s as blunt as its title suggests, it makes for a mercilessly hilarious aphrodisiac, utilizing the well-worn conventions of modern romantic comedies to show just how stale the genre has become when contrasted with a movie that’s as scathingly smart as it is insistently cute.
Starring Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie as its pair of star-crossed friends without benefits, the picture opens on the night they both lost their virginity together while in college. With neither exactly passing for 19-years-old, the movie quickly and blessedly fast-forwards 13 years later to when they’re each living in New York and are in need of a fresh start.
Jake is the kind of smugly amusing motor mouth that Sudeikis has carved out a comfortable niche playing, and he is also the last in his group of male friends to still be single while he goes through women on a near weekly basis. Lainey (Brie), meanwhile, is only concentrated on one man: her former college flame who’s a pencil-necked dullard OBGYN with a wispy moustache—played amusingly creepy (or is that creepily amusing?) by Adam Scott. In addition to being Lainey’s gynaecologist, he is also engaged to another woman as he pushes Lainey toward degrading herself in his office.
Deciding they both need something more in their life, Jake and Lainey settle for rekindling their friendship nearly 15 years after that fateful one-night stand by not sleeping with each other. Instead, they’ll roll by a picturesque changing of the seasons in Manhattan while advising each other on their sex lives, pretending to be a married couple that likes to swing in public, and dropping the occasional dash of ecstasy when they’re bored at a child’s birthday party. Of course they’re going to stay only friends….
Hardly breaking new terrain amongst filmic love stories, Sleeping with Other People succeeds purely due to its hilarity, which includes the incredibly well cast Sudeikis and Brie. Whereas most rom-coms tend to coast on a star paring’s ability to mug, Sudeikis and Brie not only bring real heat to their scenes together, but also some equally impressive comedy chops. Brie proves just as quick on the punch-line timing as Sudeikis, volleying with a tit-for-tat on such demure subjects as race relations in dating, the times when cheating is a kindness, and the proper etiquette of female masturbation.
The naughty self-awareness is a credit to Headland who resists the urge to stop either character from appearing unlikable or (for the most part) giving them vicariously wonderful lives. It is even in the darker, most uncomfortable moments centered on Lainey and her inarticulate desire for a married man, as well as her and Jake’s shared loneliness as adult-children past the age of 30, that the writer-director makes her shrewdest and most compelling observations about the modern dating world.
It’s these refreshingly thoughtful and endearing insights that make the picture strong enough to overcome some of the film’s more blatant appropriations from the Nora Ephron guidebook of screenplay writing, complete with awkwardly swift transitions in character motivations to keep the plot moving. There is also a rather uncomfortable dead end tangent involving Jake seducing his boss (Amanda Peet), which is even more noticeably extraneous when contrasted with all the fun everyone else is having in the cast, including the razor sharp banter in the margins by Jason Mantzoukas and Andrea Savage’s supporting work.
Still, Sleeping with Other People is a persuasive affair that keeps both the laughs and sparks flying between Sudeikis and Brie, especially because their characters are remarkably untidy for this kind of romance. And rest assured, it is a full-fledged romance with an audience-cheering ending and even an adorable, Internet-meme ready dance sequence between Brie and a class of children. Granted, she might be tripping with Molly during her manic spasms that make an equally blazed Jake smitten, but it is adorable nonetheless.
Without a doubt, Sleeping with Other People is revisiting many of the same formulaic beats of the genre, right down to its unobscured lift of the 25-year-old When Harry Met Sally dynamic. However, the employment of a thoroughly modern New York sensibility and the winsome combination of Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie proves that there is significant value in a quarter-century of inflation. We even now have a 2015 riff on the famed fake orgasm with a real one that’s brought on by the simulated pleasuring of a green tea bottle. Talk about finding the sweet spot.
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