Sex! Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about Sleeping With Other People, a raunchy adult rom-com starring Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis.
Romantic comedies are sort of a poisoned chalice nowadays – lumbered with a reputation for being contrived and formulaic, the genre rarely produces a shining gem in the mould of (500) Days of Summer, and instead seems resigned to a perpetual cycle of mediocre crap starring Katherine Heigl or Nicholas Sparks’ adaptations.
The latest labour of love to enter the fray is Leslye Headland’s sophomore directorial effort Sleeping With Other People, an R-rated romp about two thirty-something sex addicts, Lainey (Alison Brie) and Jake (Jason Sudiekis), who reunite many years after college and vow to keep their relationship purely platonic. Straight away you think you’ve got a pretty good idea of where this is going - impossibly attractive and emotionally damaged lead characters? Check! Hip urban backdrop? Check! Sassy best friend who won’t shut up and gets all the best gags? Check, check and double check.
When you look at like this, it’s hard to argue that Headland’s film does much to escape the tight confines of its genre. On the surface, things are pretty much business as usual; the story feels familiar, the setting (New York) isn’t anything new and it’s not hard to imagine Brie’s role being played by any interchangeable young actress with a background in rom-coms, like a Heigl or a Hathaway.
However, it isn’t long before the film proves you wrong by actively striving to achieve more. Dig a little deeper and this movie reveals itself to be carrying a lot more emotional weight than your average rom-com. You see, Jake and Lainey’s suffocating sex addition is the source of immense emotional turmoil, and they both struggle to find happiness in their respective relationships; for Jake, a string of meaningless partners has left him feeling alone whilst Lainey can’t escape an emotionally abusive relationship with a married doctor (Adam Scott).
Headland tackles these topics with equal parts sincerity and whimsy, leaving her actors plenty of room to explore just how fucked-up their characters are without getting bogged down or depressive. This does mean that the tone shifts quite dramatically at times, but credit where credit is due; this isn’t another brainless adult comedy stuffed with dick jokes. I mean, there are some. Maybe 40% are dick and vagina jokes.
Headland plays around with the format to create exchanges that feel real and tangible, kind of like eavesdropping on a married couple in the fruit and veg aisle; in one scene, Brie continually interrupts Sudeikis whilst he’s trying to recount his latest sexual escapade by making off the cuff remarks that pick apart his story. We even get a brilliant When Harry Met Sally moment where Sudeikis uses an empty iced tea bottle to teach Brie how to pleasure herself. The give-and-take in these scenes, amongst others, not only shows that that the actors were given ample room to improvise, but also that Headland has a knack for writing people, not just cookie-cutter characters.
It goes without saying that the lead duo are brimming with sexual chemistry, with Brie in particular giving a raunchy performance that puts some distance between her and the sweet schoolgirl role she played on cult sitcom Community. Also standouts are Andrea Savage and Jason Mantzoukas as Naomi and Xander, a married couple who constantly bicker and tease one another.
It’s a shame that the film returns to more conventional territory in the third act – an appropriately bittersweet conclusion is gently nudged aside for something more generic, a creative decision that I thought could’ve been avoided. That being said, the lasting impression this film leaves behind is generally positive; it doesn’t skimp on the serious character beats but also keeps it light and frothy.
The Verdict: 7/10
Smart, sassy and sexy, Sleeping With Other People fares better than most; Brie and Sudiekis are a great pairing and a broad script keeps the plot humming along nicely. You’ll be hard pushed to find a more suited date movie than this.
This review was originally published over at Hooked on Film, a Perth based website where you can find even more new release movie reviews, features, interviews and insight. Click here to check it out.
Sleeping With Other People is in cinemas across Australia this Thursday