Directed by: Leslye Headland
Premise: A pair of friends (Jason Sudekis and Alison Brie) who struggle with monogamy decide to keep their relationship platonic but their mutual attraction gradually becomes harder to ignore.
What Works: Sleeping with Other People sits comfortably in the company of titles like Trainwreck and Zack and Miri Make a Porno but more fundamentally this movie is a contemporary version of When Harry Met Sally. Rob Reiner’s 1989 film was something of a watershed in that it established the contemporary romantic comedy formula, which is still adhered to twenty-seven years later, but it was also—for the time—surprisingly frank about matters of sex and love and spoke to the 1980s audience in a way that wasn’t overly raunchy but didn’t insult the viewer’s intelligence either. Sleeping with Other People attempts to do the same kind of thing for today’s audience and even if it isn’t nearly as groundbreaking as When Harry Met Sally it does succeed in emulating that film’s appeals. This movie finds two people enjoying the sexual freedom of contemporary society but they’re not entirely satisfied with it. Jake and Lainey, played by Jason Sudekis and Alison Brie, met in college and lost their virginity together in a textbook romantic comedy scenario. But when the story picks up years later they’re psychologically frozen in a state of perpetual promiscuity; even the possibility of an emotional commitment is too much to handle. The couple reunites by chance and rekindle their friendship but deliberately abstain from sex to preserve the relationship. The film is an intelligent take on modern romance and it is very frank. The characters’ discussions about sexuality are frank in a way that befits the age of Tinder. This is played for laughs and the movie is quite funny. But for as explicit as some of the dialogue can be, Sleeping with Other People also has a good heartedness that is endearing. The film was written and directed by Leslye Headland who had previously directed 2012’s Bachelorette and wrote the 2014 remake of About Last Night. Sleeping with Other People is considerably better than either of those movies and Headland demonstrates a firm handle on the tone of the picture. The film also includes notable performances by Jason Sudekis and Alison Brie. They make a likable couple that the audience will want to see together but Sudekis in particular impresses. In movies like Horrible Bosses and Hall Pass he’s been cast as obnoxious would-be lotharios. This movie casts him in a similar role but Sudekis is much more nuanced and likable.
What Doesn’t: Sleeping with Other People is grounded in a standard romantic comedy template and it never quite escapes the clichés of the genre. The movie is clearly designed to subvert rom-com conventions and it entertains some of them while self-consciously tweaking them. But in the end, Sleeping with Other People adheres to the formula. That actually works for the picture. Just as its characters resist the social expectations of courtship and monogamy but eventually give into them, the filmmakers try to find their way around the romantic comedy boiler plate but ultimately fulfill it. That allows Sleeping with Other People to have its cake and eat it too. There is an inherent tension in movies like this. Audiences want a fresh cinematic experience and to see characters who are recognizable and who embody the viewer’s social and cultural point of view. But part of the allure of genre films, and especially romantic comedies, is their predictability and their unrealistically happy endings. Sleeping with Other People manages to bridge those opposing desires and it deserves credit for managing to do that. But there’s also no denying that there was a stronger and more honest story here that’s muzzled by the adherence to formula.
DVD extras: None.
Bottom Line: Sleeping with Other People is an enjoyable romantic comedy. The movie isn’t quite as subversive as it purports to be but the film ought to satisfy the rom-com audience while stretching the boundaries of this kind of movie.
Episode: #582 (February 14, 2016)