Another raunchy New York set romantic comedy about two dysfunctional people who eventually find love--“Sleeping With Other People” excels due to Leslye Headland’s (who also directed the movie) punchy, tremendously funny script and the breezy repartee between its two stars. After losing their virginities to each other (to get it over with) while in college, Jake (Jason Sudeikis) and Lainey (Alison Brie) evolve into adults incapable of committing to monogamous relationships. Jake is a womanizer and Lainey’s a serial cheater. To both, sex is empty and mostly meaningless. Yet, through a chance encounter at a sex addiction meeting Jake and Lainey reconnect and form a platonic relationship.
In terms of structure and plot, “Sleeping With Other People” doesn’t reinvent the romantic comedy; things mostly go the way you’d expect them to go. The best friends (played by Jordan Carlos and Natasha Lyone) garner some laughs but they remain largely one-dimensional and in the background. Where the movie comes to life is in the energetic tête-à-têtes between Lainey and Jake that have the rhythm and speed of a Howard Hawkes comedy with the vulgar, explicit sensibility of a Judd Apatow picture. In no time the two become confidants, comfortable enough to talk openly about past and present sexual encounters, or simply talk shop about relationship and sexual politics. They haven’t seen each other since that night at Columbia but talk and act like they’ve been friends forever; two dysfunctional people recognizing each other’s similar dysfunctions.
The discussions function as a kind of therapy and pretty soon their relationship becomes the only stable thing in their lives. They even come to resemble a couple minus the sex. Sex is the reason they have commitment issues in the first place so by making their relationship platonic they don’t have to worry about cheating and can work on reforming their non committing ways. These scenes crackle with honesty and razor sharp dialogue full of colorful metaphors and similes.
Both actors deliver top-notch work. Sudeikis’ performance combines the typical cocky womanizer with the nice supportive guy friend (in romantic comedies, he’s the one who listens and gives guidance while secretly lusting after the heroine). Jake is attractive but in a non-supermodel way. He isn’t the kind of guy who could enter a bar and seduce a random woman with a single glance. What he does have is confidence, the ability to maintain a jokey charming demeanor. He has no problem speaking the truth about others, making him come off as a jerk at times and he rarely shuts up-- always having a witty retort waiting in the wings. Though beneath this cocky blunt exterior lies a man who’s aware of his unfulfilling womanizing ways and wants to get better. And in his interactions with Lainey he displays genuine compassion-- listening to her problems and giving her advice along with his jesting remarks.
Brie is equally splendid, matching Sudeikis at every turn in the repartee department. Lainey is sweet and well mannered, while not above taking Molly at a kids birthday party. She also hides an underlying sense of shame and vulnerability. This is seen most clearly in her scenes with Matthew (an odd, deadpan Adam Scott) the bland timid man she was having an affair with. Matthew’s behavior is cold and dismissive, leaving her with strong feelings of anger and embarrassment. At the same time she’s somewhat delusional and pathetic, hopeful that he will pick her even though he says he’s staying with his wife. Headland shoots these sequences coldly and straight-faced, mirroring Matthew’s treatment of her. The moment where Lainey sadly runs after him while he jogs in the park (never noticing her) is sufficiently pitiful. While they don’t entirely mesh with the film’s comedic tone, these scenes are still touching and help deepen the character.
“Sleeping With Other People” loses some momentum during the homestretch. The last ten minutes feel rushed and muddled in an attempt to tie things up neatly. Additionally, Amanda Peet’s role as a potential love interest for Jake isn’t fleshed out nearly enough, making her into a trite last minute obstacle to delay the film’s inevitable Rom-com conclusion. Never the less, Headland’s picture is incredibly charming and contains some of the funniest, sharpest dialogue of any comedy this year.