“Sleeping with Other People” Flirts with Tropes from Better Movies

Sleeping with Other People

Sleeping with Other People (Leslye Headland, 2015)

Alison Brie (Trudy Campbell on “Mad Men“) and Jason Sudeikis (lots of characters on “Saturday Night Live,” since 2003) are both such likable performers with natural chemistry – with the audience and with each other – that it seems a shame they don’t have a better movie in which to flaunt their charisma. They play Lainey and Jake, two thirty-somethings who first meet in college and then run into each other – after years of no contact – outside of a sex addict 12-step meeting. Since they lost their respective virginities to each other, it’s meant to be an especially poignant and/or ironic encounter. It’s neither, really, but forms an excuse for them to become friends again, which they do with the caveat that they will not sleep together, since, you know, sex ruins things. The problem is that they are so obviously meant to be together – and even they know it – that the conceit of their abstinence (from each other, since they still have sex with others) makes very little sense. I am hardly the first person to notice the overt resemblance to Rob Reiner’s 1989 When Harry Met Sally, but it bears mentioning again, if only to note that it is possible to make people avoid commitment and have it seem natural. You just need an interesting (and witty) script to pull it off.

That’s not to say that writer/director Leslye Headland (Bachelorette) has no talent for sketch comedy – some of the individual scenes work – but rather that the movie, overall, falls flat. Headland seems to want to reinvent the romantic-comedy genre with her in-your-face raunchiness, but never pulls off more than a weak imitation of better movies. More disturbingly – for me – this is the second film directed by a woman I have seen, in as many weeks, which spends as much time trafficking in the worst stereotypes about male-female dynamics as ostensibly attempting to subvert them (the first was The Intern). Jake is a classic womanizer – and chicks sure do dig him! – while Lainey is hung up on the one guy who consistently ignores her, a gynecologist (really?) played by Adam Scott (wearing the same unappealing mustache he sported a few weeks ago in Black Mass). Jake never talks about his feelings; Lainey cries a lot. There is one very sweet scene between the two protagonists, in which Jake is finally able to express why he is so afraid to sleep with Lainey, but it exists in its own bubble, outside of the world of the rest of the movie.

Perhaps the best part of the film – again going back to Headland’s apparent talent for sketch writing – are the scenes that involve Jake’s business partner/only friend Xander, played by a very funny Jason Mantzoukas (Neighbors), and Xander’s wife, Naomi, played by the equally hilarious Andrea Savage (Ivanka Silversan on “The Hotwives of Las Vegas“). In their moments together, we sense a wonderfully quirky shared history that gives us the character development so sorely lacking in the two leads. Theirs is the clever take on romance that this movie’s premise promises.

A final, special note to filmmakers everywhere:

  1. Slo-mo is not a shortcut for dramatic tension
  2. Taking drugs in a movie is not funny for its own sake
  3. A man teaching a woman how to orgasm is, well, kind of insulting to women, no? Then again, here I am, a man, lecturing female directors on their portrayal of women, so … maybe not.

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