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Sleeping With Other People
by Jordan Canahai
Can a man and a woman who used to be former lovers ever just be friends? It’s a question as old as the romantic comedy itself, and one at the heart of Sleeping With Other People, the second film from writer/director Leslye Headland. While there’s been no shortage of rom-coms in recent years that have attempted to explore the sexual undercurrents of male/female friendships in the 21st century, from No Strings Attached to Friends With Benefits, what makes Headland’s sophomore effort stand out is how successfully it manages to be both genuinely romantic and unabashedly sexy.
As one might expect from the title, Sleeping With Other People is refreshingly upfront and honest about sex. The film’s first scene involves Lainey (Alison Brie) meeting Jake (Jason Sudeikis) in his college dorm, upon which after some brief awkwardness leads to the young couple losing their virginities to each other. 12 years after the one night stand the pair unexpectedly reunites outside a group meeting for people coping with sex addiction. He’s a womanizer who can’t seem to remain monogamous and she’s romantically obsessed with a married gynecologist (Adam Scott), with whom she’s been involved in a longstanding affair. Despite a mutual attraction between the two, Lainey and Jake decide to be just friends, confiding in each other about their romantic hang-ups and vowing to keep their relationship strictly platonic (a safe word is mutually agreed upon early on and frequently employed whenever sexual tension between them gets too strong.) Things get complicated however when Jake and Lainey both find themselves becoming emotionally attached despite the absence of physical intimacy in their relationship.
Most of Sleeping With Other People sounds very familiar on paper, the premise being standard boilerplate for a romantic-comedy, but Headland’s greatest strength is that she takes the time to develop her characters. This is a film that feels more realistic and raw than typical big-studio fare. Headland’s subtle long-takes capture the rhythms of everyday life in New York City while her distinct, natural dialogue sparkles with wit. Aided by a strong cast, each of her characters emerge as fully-formed individuals rather than the stereotypes they may have come off as in lesser hands. Sudeikis and Brie prove performers with no shortage of charm and natural charisma. Sudeikis handles the scenes of raunchy comedy with all the skill you’d expect of an SNL alum and infuses Jake with a smart-ass charisma that never ventures into smugness. Brie is delightful as well, playing a woman who’s slowly breaking free from an un-healthy relationship and learning to love life and herself again, most memorably when Lainey and Jake attend a birthday party for the son of his best friend while rolling face, leading to the couple sharing a goofy dance sequence with the kids. Scott also deserves credit in his brief role for playing against his usual nice-guy persona and giving audiences a loathsome OBGYN for the ages.
Sleeping With Other People plays like a nice companion piece to Judd Apatow’s Trainwreck, another comedy from this year that considers monogamy and long-term romance in our post-millennial hook-up culture. Like that film, it also ends on a disappointingly conventional note, tacking on a clichéd happy ending in its final moments that doesn’t really gel with the movie that had preceded it. Sleeping With Other People is always entertaining, containing scenes of both terrific humor and surprising flashes of genuine emotions, but it falls just short of greatness.
Watch the trailer for Sleeping With Other People
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