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Sleeping with Other People

September 18, 2015
Sleeping with Other People

A few years back we saw a couple of attempts to upend the traditional romantic comedy format, both using the same gimmick. Instead of two people alternately chasing after each other, they get together right away but intend to keep those pesky emotions out of it. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t quite work out as they’d planned. One of them pretty much worked; the other really didn’t.

In Sleeping with Other People, the shakeup attempt comes from the other direction: throw the two leads together right away, but intending to only be friends and not let sex ruin that. Unfortunately, writer/director Leslye Headland can never quite decide what she wants to say about this situation, and it ends up drifting rudderlessly from one comedic island to another.

Jake (Jason Sudeikis) and Lainey (Alison Brie) both have a history of sex ruining things. Jake is a garden-variety womanizer, while Lainey has a long-standing obsession with Matthew (Adam Scott), despite Matthew’s casual and dismissive treatment of her. In fact, Jake and Lainey lost their virginity to each other at Columbia when she was stalking Matthew as her T.A. And no, I can’t really explain the scene better than that.

They meet up twelve years later at a recovery group for “love addicts”, featuring a funny if glaringly stereotyped rant by Billy Eichner that runs about half again too long. Lainey’s friend Kara (Natasha Lyonne) insists that the solution to her problem is to sleep with lots of non-Matthew people, starting with Jake, but after one date they decide that they don’t want sex to ruin the possibility of their first emotionally healthy friendship ever, so they resolve to just be friends.

So then where do we go from here? Headland herself doesn’t seem very certain. Sudeikis has a gift for glib patter, and he gets plenty of opportunities to exercise this schtick. Brie can keep up, but she never gets her own chance to show off the range of her talent she’s displayed in Community and Mad Men. She does get more to do than she did in Get Hard, her last film produced by Gary Sanchez — sorry, it’s Gloria Sanchez for female filmmakers — but they still find plenty of excuses to strip her down to her underwear. Sudeikis, for comparison, only ever has to show off a thatch of chest hair over his bedsheets.

As the plot meanders from one scene to another, gradually working through the arc of these characters realizing that they’re more than just friends, it leaves more than a little ground uncovered. Jake’s married friends, Xander (Jason Mantzoukas) and Naomi (Andrea Savage), have a number of bits that play as funny, but cry out for explanations that are nowhere to be found. Jake gets to explore the roots of his disordered behavior in a scene that recasts them into a sweet and romantic sentiment towards Lainey, but her own behavior towards Matthew isn’t nearly so carefully examined.

And on top of that, we get at least one too many endings. After a satisfying resolution that actually does turn some of the genre’s conventions sideways, we get a far less satisfying coda that plays into all the usual tropes. It feels like it was added after the fact by a conservative studio wanting to play better to their idea of prospective audiences, but production sightings indicate otherwise. Just another example of the aimless course this story always took.

Given all the talents of its cast, Sleeping with Other People squanders them on a collection of scenes that don’t add up to a coherent whole. It’s funny and enjoyable moment by moment, but never manages to be truly as subversive or insightful as it wants to be.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: fail.

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