Sleeping with Other People (IFC Films, R)

film sleeping-with_smSleeping with Other People works with a pleasant sitcommyness, if network sitcoms circa the 1990s were more R-rated.

 

 

 

film sleeping-with

I’ve wondered in the past why it seems like bad romantic comedies get wide releases with big marketing campaigns behind them, and decent (or better) romantic comedies tend to only play arthouses or go straight to VOD. It’s as if, when someone accidentally makes a good romantic comedy, the powers that be do everything they can to hide it.

And here we are again, with Leslye Headland’s new rom-com Sleeping with Other People, which is probably the best new romantic comedy I’ve seen in 2015. If you know Headland it’s probably for 2012’s Kirsten Dunst vehicle Bachelorette, which met a similar fate: minimal theatrical release, straight to Video On Demand. I wasn’t wild about Bachelorette—mostly, it’s just an average film with a pretty good cast—but Sleeping with Other People works with a pleasant sitcommyness, if network sitcoms circa the 1990s were more R-rated.

It probably helps the sitcom vibe that Sleeping with Other People stars two actors known mostly for their TV work, Jason Sudeikis (Saturday Night Live) and Alison Brie (Mad Men, Community). Sudeikis plays Jake, a womanizer/office drone (not far off from his character in Horrible Bosses), and Brie plays Lainey, who teaches young children. The premise is that Jake and Lainey lose their virginities to one another while in college (as shown in the film’s unpromising first scene), promptly lose touch, and reconnect at a sex addicts’ meeting some decade-plus later. In the years between relieving each other of their respective cherries and running into one another again, both are serial cheaters with deep-seated issues. They take refuge in their similarity to one another, but are always at risk of entering into a destructive sexual relationship, so they pull a When Harry Met Sally and decide they’re best off as platonic friends.

One thing that helps separate Sleeping with Other People from the pack is that it was written and directed by a woman, something frustratingly uncommon for most movies, including romantic comedies. To help explain why having a female writer/director helps the overall picture, consider this example: There’s a long-ish sequence where Jake teaches Lainey how to masturbate. I mean, get herself off; not him. Setting aside the fact that this scene is funny (it is), written by a man it would have seemed boorish and insulting—a woman needs a man to teach her how to masturbate?! From a female writer, it takes on a different subtext. Maybe Headland’s subtly instructing the male portion of the film’s audience how to do what Jake is supposedly so good at? It’s an interesting theory.

Elsewhere, Sudeikis and Brie have good chemistry, which is one of the most important things in a movie like this. They’re both sympathetic characters on their own, and make for appropriate companions while together. Brie’s performance brings to mind the ’90s work of Sudeikis’s costar in We Are the Millers, Jennifer Aniston, which perhaps falls short of Ms. Brie’s capabilities as an actress, but is functional enough for the material here. And Sudeikis, for whom Headland says she specifically wrote the role of Jake, seems to pretty much always play himself in any given film, but I seem to like the Jason Sudeikis character more and more in each film I see him in. (Unlike what Jake says about himself, in one of Sleeping with Other People’s best lines: “I don’t think I like me enough to introduce him to other people.”)

Which leads me to one last, but still very important, reason why I liked Sleeping with Other People: it’s genuinely, and pretty consistently, funny. The humor leans a little lowbrow—I probably don’t have to tell you that the film takes cheap shots at sex addicts, but to be fair, it does so in a way that made me laugh—but Headland is good at writing funny dialogue. Even in that opening sequence with college-aged Jake and Lainey, about which I was nonplussed on the whole, there’s a very funny argument made by Jake using Blues Traveler versus the Beatles as an analogy for what sex with someone else versus sex with him would be like.

This all brings me back to my often-asked question: Why isn’t this film getting a wider release? At least it’s in capable hands: Distributor IFC made a metric ton of money on another indie female-written/directed romantic comedy, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, back in 2002. So I guess we can trust them to take it wider if it starts connecting with audiences, which, in its limited release (mostly on the coasts) over the past few weeks, so far it hasn’t. Maybe people who like romantic comedies really just like bad romantic comedies? And then that’ll leave most of the rest of us to catch up with this on VOD. | Pete Timmermann

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