Sundance 2015: 'Sleeping with Other People' is RomCom Done Right
by Ethan Anderton
January 25, 2015
One of my favorite romantic comedies of all time is When Harry Met Sally. It's classic, timeless and delivers the perfect depiction of friendship between the opposite sexes, dating and relationships. And while countless films have tried to duplicate the brilliance of director Rob Reiner and writer Nora Eprhon, many of them fall tragically short. But thankfully, we have Sleeping with Other People from Bachelorette writer and director Leslye Headland, and this is hopefully as close as we'll get to what is essentially a remake of the aforementioned 1989 romantic comedy staple. But the film has a style and attitude all its own.
Headland herself describes the film as When Harry Met Sally for assholes, and since the story follows Jake (Jason Sudeikis) and Lainey (Alison Brie), two people who have problems committing to relationships and cheat to get out of them, that's pretty damn accurate. They meet in college and end up striking up an awkward friendship that turns into both of them losing their virginity to each other. Flash forward years later and they're both having relationship problems, both breaking up with their significant others because of their infidelities. And when they see each other for the first time in years at a meeting of love addicts, thus begins their friendship and inevitable romance.
Sleeping with Other People is undeniably formulaic and completely predictable. However, Headland has written some meaty characters, all driven by witty and earnest dialogue, making this particular romantic comedy feel fresh. But of course, a script is just words on paper until it's brought to life, and Headland has rounded up some of the best comedy stars in the business to bring this to life. But what's pleasantly surprising is that they were just hired to be funny, and everyone in the film gets their own moment to show off their dramatic chops, bringing depth to their characters, and pulling viewers in that much deeper to the great big heart that lies at the center of this film about a raunchy friendship teetering on love.
The standout is Jason Sudeikis, who up until this point has made a solid living and delivering quality entertainment as an amusing, fast-talking, smart-ass leading man in films like We're the Millers and Horrible Bosses, not to mention satisfying supporting turns in Going the Distance. But Sleeping with Other People is a career game-changer for the actor. Sudeikis puts in the best performance of his career so far, delivering not just the hilarious, off the cuff banter we've come to expect, but some surprisingly subtle spellbinding gentlemanly charm, like a mix of Chevy Chase and Tom Hanks. The film as a whole mirrors Sudeikis' skill as it mixes the harsh realities of these love lives with outstanding comedy to great effect.
Scenes like Jake's detailed and accurate advice to Lainey about how to properly finger herself (this scene is somehow dirty and cute at the same time) are funny and crude, but that's not all this relationship, nor the laughs throughout the film, are founded upon. In fact, the raunchiness is fantastically contrasted in scenes such as one where Jake realizes that this cool non-committal single guy persona can't last forever or one where he almost acts on his feelings as he lays in bed alongside Lainey, tears filling his eyes and a lump in his whispers to her as she falls asleep.
But don't worry, Sudeikis isn't the only one who shines, because Brie also delivers a sterling performance. In fact, her addiction to a lack of commitment and an unhealthy ongoing affair with an Indiana Jones Nazi villain-esque looking doctor played by Adam Scott, is played much more dramatically, showing Lainey suffering great emotional distress, much like a drug addict, when she can't get her sexual fix from the married man. Speaking of which, Scott's role is another surprising performance here since it's not played to any comedic effect whatsoever. Scott plays a stuck-up, unlikeable asshole, and he pulls it off magnificently.
Anyway, Brie really runs the gamut from being adorable and funny to just being an absolute mess, shaking with worry and rage when confronted with her addiction to this affair. And it's these elements that make her calm, perky personality that comes out when she's hanging out with Jake that much more effective. These two are perfect together, and Sudeikis and and Brie have as much chemistry and wonderful scenes together as Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally. Let's not forget Jason Mantzoukas, Andrea Savage and Natasha Lyonne, who play Jake and Lainey's friends, each bringing even more great humor.
Sleeping with Other People isn't exactly groundbreaking, but it's the perfect way to pull off romance, by making it believable, satisfying, funny and endearing. Headland has crafted a script chock full of authentic characters and conversations, and it comes together wonderfully in front of the camera thanks to Sudeikis, who should be a bona fide star after this film is released, and Brie, bringing the alluring combination of being sexy and lovely, even when her character is making terrible decisions. Sleeping with Other People can easily be described as When Harry Met Sally for the next generation, but it's good enough to stand on its own merits as one of the most entertaining and honest love stories of the past 10 years.