I suppose it’s official, but the twenty-first century ‘rom-com’ is snide, emotionally vacant and replete with self serving egomaniacs who convey little truth in relationships or the basic ways in which we connect with each other. Okay, maybe not all ‘rom-coms’, but at least in the case of Leslye Headland’s Sleeping With Other People, a film whose ambitions are tethered with two of the most unlikable characters on-screen this year and whose relationship is centralized around the basic fact they’re both emotionally stunted individuals when it comes to monogamy and healthy partnerships. Sometimes, this makes for compelling and disturbingly good cinema. But here, it alienates.
In fact, even their obligatory “meet-cute” reeks of pointed genre inversion as college student Jake (Jason Sudeikis) hears a commotion in his dorm room hallway and sees fellow student Lainey (Alison Brie) pounding on the door of neighbor Matthew (Adam Scott). After a brief explosion of profanity and sexually explicit directives when Matthew won’t open the door, Jake saves her from being kicked out of the dorm by allowing her into his room.
See, Lainey’s plan of losing her virginity to Matthew didn’t go as planned, and as she and Jake talk through the night, they rambunctiously go at it themselves, giving their virginity away to each other in an impetuous moment.
Cut to years later as we watch Jake being publicly dumped by his current girlfriend Hannah (Margarita Levieva) on the sidewalks of New York when she finds out he slept with another woman. Via a monologue that sounds as if David Mamet inserted a chunk of twisted logic into Jake’s mouth on why and how Hannah is so upset over his dubious actions, Jake is revealed to be a highly intelligent but smart-ass sexual addict, something confirmed when we next see him attending a sex addicts meeting and running into older Lainey at the same meeting.
Equally unhappy in her own sexually subjugated life, the two draw closer and closer as they decide not to have sex, but engage in a friendship that sees them weave in and out of destructive relationships with old flames and new ones, such as Jake’s boss played by Amanda Peet.
Along the journey of their hither and yonder abstinent friendship, we’re treated to a scene where they show up blitzed on ecstasy pills to a children’s birthday party, numerous scenes of Sudeikis showcasing his wit with an over-cooked script, and numerous secondary performances (such as that of Peet’s) that often feel more developed and heartfelt than the central ones of Sudeikis and Brie. All of this situational comedy is wrapped around the basic question of will they or won’t they end up together? At least in that regard, Sleeping With Other People is somewhat old fashioned.
Also written by Headland, Sleeping With Other People is, perhaps, a comedy for the new times. Like Judd Apatow’s Trainwreck, it’s a film that elides the nuanced presence of previous comedies and instead foregrounds the deviant undercurrents of its men and women. Sexual addiction. The inability to break free of destructive impulses. Non stop inner dialogue that attempts to mask the ripples of hurt and insecurity. It also doesn’t hurt that Amy Schumer and Jason Sudeikis are virtual opposite-gender-twins in both their outlook on sex and their eventual warming up to the ideas of monogamy through the slow emotional hammering of their on-screen partners.
All of this is to say, if one appreciated that film, they’ll probably bask in the muggy hipster glow of Sleeping With Other People. For me, it became yet another suffocating example of two people surfing the vagaries of modern love with a screwed up compass and even less resonance.
Sleeping With Other People opens in Dallas-Fort Worth on Friday, September 25 at the Angelika Dallas and AMC NorthPark.