MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Sleeping With Other People’ Is Romantic Comedy Gold

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Film: Sleeping with Other People
Starring: Jason Sudeikis, Alison Brie
Directed by: Leslye Headland

Director Leslye Headland burst onto the film scene with her vulgarly hilarious women-being-assholes film, Bachelorette, in 2012. She proved then that she could salvage genuine emotion from the most vapid of characters, no matter how they crossed each other. Or maybe it’s because I really like watching Isla Fisher and Kirsten Dunst do drugs and crack jokes at each other’s expense. The jury’s still out.

With her new film, Sleeping with Other People, Headland is clearly in love with rom-coms, but knows when to not wink and nod at cliché. Her trademark sexually crass humor is cast over a story of unrequited (or is it?) love, enlivening the whole genre in one fell swoop. Sure, the movie gets messy once emotional revelations start piling on, but Headland and co. are so damn good at their jobs that you won’t mind a bit of a trip into convention.

Jake (Jason Sudeikis) is a womanizer with a heart of gold, having the uncanny ability to screw whomever he wants and make it out emotionally unscathed. That is until Lainey (Alison Brie), the girl he lost his virginity to, stumbles back into his life after they spot each other at a sex addicts anonymous meeting. They quickly strike up an attraction but realize that having sex would ruin everything. So, they both agree to be “best friends” who can always go to each other with their romantic problems. Kind of like a married couple without the copulation. Naturally, things don’t all go right with their new bond.

Sudeikis’ Jake delicately toes the line between smarmy and charming. For once, Sudeikis is given the opportunity to be heartfelt instead of being chauvinistic and it works. He has an incredible knack for improvisational comedy, but here he’s called upon to drop the act and use his comedic talent like a thin veil between Jake’s rugged exterior and conflicted interior. Alison Brie is even better as Lainey, the girl who is having a rough time separating herself from an abusive sexual relationship with a beau from college (who is married). This is Brie’s best role in years (ever?) because she’s called upon to be vulnerable yet protective of herself, and also really, really funny. Her character is no trope and Brie plays with her messy emotions in such a graceful way.

The “will they?” or “won’t they?” of Lainey and Jake’s friendship drives the story with efficiency, thanks to some tangents with other comedic actors. Jason Mantzoukas plays Xander, Jake’s married-with-kids business partner, who steals every single scene he is in. Yelling “my love is conditional!” at his kid during a soccer game will go down as one of 2015’s finest comedic moments. The banter between Xander and his wife, Naomi (Andrea Savage), is comedic gold to the point where you wish there was another movie only about them. Natasha Lyonne even shows up for a couple of scenes as Lainey’s lesbian friend, Kara, keeping the jokey tone in the face of emotional complexity going at full force. The film heavily relies on these comedic moments to land and for the most part, they all do.

I would liken Headland’s work here to that of Rob Reiner, Peter Bogdanovich, or Mike Nichols. Her comedy has the spitfire qualities of Bogdanovich’s earlier work, the dramatic heft of Reiner’s and the subdued comeuppance of Nichols. Two scenes in Sleeping with Other People strike me as hall of fame moments for romantic comedies. First, where Jake shows Lainey how to masturbate by performing acts on a green tea jar. Second, where Jake and Lainey show up to a kid’s birthday high on ecstasy and tasked with entertaining the kids.

Although it clearly isn’t a flawless venture, when Sleeping with Other People has to rest on the messy emotions of Jake and Lainey coming to fruition, Sudeikis and Brie are still top-notch. Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for hopeless romanticism, but this story of love and sex is the acidic counterpoint to the question “are romantic comedies dead?”


Sam Cohen

Sam Cohen is that guy you can't have a conversation with without bringing up Michael Mann. He is also incapable of separating himself from his teenage angst (looking at you, Yellowcard). Read on as he tries to formulate words about movies!
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