Yes, when it boils down to it, this is a rom-com. And yes, as a result, it uses some common rom-com tropes to reach the conclusion audiences have come to expect from the genre. But let me make this very clear from the get-go: as much as it uses these cinematic devices and bridges dialogue with well-timed, cringe/laugh-inducing sexual innuendos, Sleeping With Other People has a good amount of heart and offers a lot of truth. In fact, I’d say that the biggest stretch from reality comes not at the end but at the very beginning, when the audience is asked to believe that Alison Brie’s character is having difficulty getting a boring TA to sex her up. I don’t buy it.
Framed as “When Harry Met Sally… for assholes” by writer and director Leslye Headland (Bachelorette, About Last Night), Sleeping With Other People brings together a noncommittal womanizer with an emotionally wrought love addict to form the most sexually charged platonic relationship of all time.
As I alluded to, the film opens in a Columbia dorm at the turn of the millennium with Lainey (Alison Brie) doing everything in her power to knock down her TA’s door. Just as her ruckus has drawn the attention of the RA, Jake (Jason Sudeikis) intervenes to keep her from being booted from the hall. After retreating to a surprisingly secluded and romantic rooftop couch, a revelation that they’re both late bloomers (and the presence of weed) leads them to help each other out as they quickly discard their virginities.
Fast-forward a decade.
Jake, once the old virgin, is now going through women faster than he used to go through tube socks and tissues. The about-face is actually so extreme, it has even begun to threaten his health – in the respect that cheating on someone may lead to their pushing you in front of a car.
Lainey, unfortunately, has fared little better, moving from frustrated virgin to frustratingly dependent on the love of an asshole. While the emotional and psychological issues that stem from this dependence lead her to cheat, she is not “just a whore,” as her hilariously annoying (and maybe understandably hurt) fiancé Sam (Adam Brody) suggests. In any event, Sam clearly has his own issues revolving around the fuckability of his brother.
This all leads to their second meet cute, with ‘cute’ being a very generous designation. Amidst Billy Eichner’s confession of anal fixation at a Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous meeting in the bowels of a church basement, Jake and Lainey are brought back together.
Awkward, explicit, and fun, the When Harry Met Sally… element begins.
At the start, Jake and Lainey decide it’s in their best interest to just be friends. They refrain from hooking up mostly because they’ve convinced themselves a relationship would crash and burn due to their individual shortcomings, despite the fact that it’s so clear they both want to get deep, deep up in there, like, gross.
But even with the best of intentions, the sexual tension is so strong that the two are forced to create a cringe-inducing safe word. Whether or not it’s cringe-worthy enough to cool off Jake’s demonstration of the “Dirty DJ” is up for debate.
As might be expected, Jake exudes the classic Sudeikis charm. The difference is, you always know in the back of your mind that he’s the “late bloomer” still figuring it out. Or, maybe, he has it figured out, but he’d “rather be the bad guy than tell the truth.” Regardless, props to Headland for having Jake lay it all out at one point and receive a result that is less rom-com and more realistic – a lack of reciprocation.
One of the more impressive character developments was the treatment of Lainey. Her love addiction is portrayed quite seriously, in contrast to many shows and films that pass it off as a joke. Subtle psychological cues, including her given name ‘Elaine,’ come into play around the once-hard-to-get-TA-turned-OBGYN-asshole Matthew Sobvechik (perfectly, and creepily, played by Adam Scott) who still controls her. And, more visually, we see the physical affects of the addiction, characterized by panic attacks and anxiety.
Already on firm footing with charismatic leads and strong writing, the film is bolstered by a great supporting cast. The man with a direct line to my funny bone, Jason Mantzoukas, takes up the role of Jake’s best friend Xander, and, along with the very entertaining Andrea Savage as his wife Naomi, offers a glimpse at what a healthy marriage can look like between two people who are still very much into each other. Amanda Peet delivers a great performance as Jake’s new boss/love interest Paula, one of the few ‘other women’ you might actually find yourself pulling for in a rom-com. And, in the role of the too levelheaded best friend, Natasha Lyonne holds it down as Kara.
While there may be things to pick at here and there, overall I found Sleeping With Other People to be the perfectly imperfect rom-com. Its realness is inescapable, and its humor ensures that you’re not trying to get away in the first place.
Director: Leslye Headland
Starring: Alison Brie, Jason Sudeikis, Jason Mantzoukas, Adam Scott, Amanda Peet
US Release: September 11, 2015, Gloria Sanchez Productions