Film Review – Sleeping With Other People
Sleeping with Other People
Sex is such a simple thing, but it can sure make matters complicated. It’s an act that we all (hopefully) get an opportunity to experience sometime in our lives, but it can make people do and say some really silly things. Prime example: the main characters of Leslye Headland’s Sleeping With Other People (2015). Here we have two people so obsessed with coitus and all the emotional strings that come with it that we wonder how they’re able to function as normal human beings at all.
On the outside, Headland (who writes and directs) disguises the film as some kind of post-modern take on the romantic comedy genre. Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis star as characters that belong in a raunchy screwball comedy but somehow stumbled their way into a traditional rom-com. Despite all the colorful language about human genitalia, at heart this is your typical, sugary sweet “on again off again on again” romance. Even better – or worse – it’s set in New York City. You’d think from all the movies we’ve seen that New York is some kind of love nest for horny neurotic singles. No wonder that place is over populated.
Lainey (Brie) and Jake (Sudeikis) met as youngsters in college. Ironically enough, both were virgins at the time. Soon after meeting, the two lose their virginities with each other. This event causes a ripple effect throughout their adult lives. Jake – whose idealistic thoughts of sex and romance were shattered – grew up to become a serial womanizer, but a friendly one (if those really exist). Lainey’s obsession with sex causes her to become emotionally detached from her relationships and stuck to the heels of an OB/GYN (Adam Scott) who refuses to fully commit to her. And so we have a male character that can’t stop having sex with anyone that happens his way, and a female character that can’t stop having sex with the one person she can’t have. These two are made for each other, aren’t they?
In the grand scheme of things, we understand that the narrative wants us to root for Lainey and Jake to end up together. The point of tension is finding out whether or not that will happen. After reuniting years later at a sex addict meeting (yes, you read that right), Lainey and Jake form a friendship. But because of their sexual hang ups, the two agree that they care about each other too much to complicate things by getting physical – it’s better and less messy to simply be friends.
Didn’t Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan talk about this years ago? If what I described sounds a lot like When Harry Met Sally… (1989), then you’ve hit the jackpot. That’s where the film fails to establish its own identity. It’s fine for stories to borrow and recalibrate familiar themes and topics, but the progression between Lainey and Jake is so derivative of better romantic comedies that it was hard not to notice the similarities. It goes so far as to ask the age-old question “Can a guy and girl just be friends without sex getting in the way?” The only real difference is that the Jake and Lainey are a lot more foul-mouthed and less believable as actual people. Headland wants us to see them as exaggerated caricatures and then turn around and buy that they have real human emotions and anxieties. Lainey will take her shirt off and dance in a drug-fueled haze at a children’s party, and then a few scenes later have a dramatic scene full of angst and emotionality. The two extremes never balanced together cohesively.
Headland directs with a visual style appropriate for the genre. Ben Kutchins’ cinematography has that usual golden glow that makes everything on screen look warm and fuzzy. New York once again is pictured as this amazingly beautiful, clean place where people can have menial jobs but live in incredibly spacious homes. In one scene, Jake and Lainey have a conversation on a ferry ride with the city perfectly composed right behind them. It’s interesting that a picture that tries so hard to say that this isn’t your “usual romance” pretty much does everything a “usual romance” does. Just because the characters are more blunt about sexuality doesn’t make them any more unique.
The performances all around were good, and provided a lot of laughs. Jason Sudeikis and Allison Brie have a strong connection, and the way they play off one another was charming. The supporting work from Amanda Peet, Jason Mantzoukas, Margarita Levieva, Adam Brody, and Adam Scott all had their moments to shine. It seemed like the entire cast had fun making this, it’s unfortunate that the narrative spent too much time pretending it was something it wasn’t. Sleeping With Other People is pure fluff, not nearly as subversive as it wants to be. It hits the regular beats step by step, and when it actually does have a chance to take a risk, it swerves back into the safe zone and marches on.