by Elizabeth Stoddard
Sleeping with Other People opens in Austin on Friday, October 2.
With her debut 2012 feature Bachelorette, writer/director Leslye Headland came on to the scene with a raunchy comedy about three friends freaking out about their friend’s impending nuptials. Each of the main characters had something of an unhinged element to her, as if these late twenty-something ladies can’t get their shit together. In Sleeping with Other People, her new film about two young thirty-somethings with their own challenges, Headland lends an unusual uncertainty to the typical romantic-comedy formula.
Lainey (Alison Brie, Community, The Five-Year Engagement) and Jake (Jason Sudeikis, SNL, Horrible Bosses) meet in a college dorm in 2002, where they spark an instant rapport and mutually punch their v-card. A decade and some change later, they run into each other after a meeting of sex addicts. Lainey’s infatuation with her TA Matthew has turned into a disastrous and unhealthy obsession that he, now an OB/GYN played by Adam Scott, encourages without reciprocating any feeling. In contrast, Jake refuses emotional attachment with women he sleeps with. He wins them over with his easy charm and can’t stay true to any of them.
Jake and Lainey become best friends after deciding they won’t sleep together. Sleeping with Other People takes us through more than a year in their lives as their relationship deepens. They shop for appliances together, go on double dates with Jake’s friends Xander (Jason Mantzoukas, Parks & Recreation) and Naomi (Andrea Savage, Step Brothers), and attend a kid’s birthday party high on molly.
Headland’s smooth script is dirty and a little twisted while being sweet at its depths. Jake speaks in such a patter that the viewer can’t help being seduced a little by it; in fact, Sudeikis here is the least smarmy I’ve ever seen him on film or TV. The wit of the writing is often barbed, including a hit at Aaron Sorkin that made me guffaw.
Brie delivers a nuanced performance as Lainey, trying to find her way out of her self-imposed limitations as her friends — including Natasha Lyonne as her raspy-voiced BFF — hope to convince her she deserves more and better. The chemistry between Lainey and Jake works at a slow burn. Watching them lovingly support each other after a disastrous night out with other partners, I got chills.
Headland’s film flows naturally until the last segment becomes as predictable as a Hollywood ending. The writer/director creates such real characters and allows them such growth that we could believe Lainey and Jake might be alright alone, or with whichever partner they ultimately chose (not necessarily each other). Thus, the ending feels like a cheat, as if we viewers couldn’t be trusted to consider other possibilities and there must be a HEA. This is only a slight complaint about this otherwise quite charming comedy.
(See Alex’s earlier review for another take on Sleeping with Other People.)