'Sleeping With Other People': A Romantic Comedy That Breaks With Convention

'Sleeping With Other People': A Romantic Comedy That Breaks With Convention

1:25pm Sep 11, 2015
Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis are serial cheaters who meet up years after having a one-night stand in Sleeping with Other People.
Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis are serial cheaters who meet up years after having a one-night stand in Sleeping with Other People.
Linda Kallerus / IFC Films

Sleeping With Other People has the arc of a conventional mainstream rom-com, but the beats are scrambled and the movie gets a climactic event out of the way in the prologue. The film actually opens with the male and female protagonists having sex — taking each other's virginity.

We first see Alison Brie's Lainey as a college student pounding drunkenly on the door of a teaching assistant she has a crush on. Another student, Jake, played by Jason Sudeikis, steps in to keep her from getting thrown out of the dorm. Having met cute, they bond, sleep together and separate — for more than a decade. When they bump into each other again, it's at a meeting for sex addicts and people who can't be faithful. A second meet cute!

Writer-director Leslye Headland has said in interviews that she holed up to write the film after the release of her raunchy first feature, Bachelorette. That movie did OK, not great, but when it faded from view and she ended a relationship, she went into an emotional dark time.

Sleeping With Other People has a headlong quality, as if it's gushing from the brain of someone who saw When Harry Met Sally 10 times and is furiously reworking the template to fit her own reality — adding more casual sex and emotional weirdness and roughening the edges.

Lainey destroys every relationship by cheating with that same teaching assistant she didn't find in the first scene — he's now a twerp of doctor played by Adam Scott with a caterpillar mustache, and it's clear he's just using her. Jake compulsively cheats on girlfriends, too, and his attempts to explain why are so convoluted you can barely focus on the words.

When they re-meet, Lainey and Jack don't fall into bed together. Instead, they are on with each other — they trade quips like bebop lines, picking up on each other's last notes and building on the theme. They're so good a fit it's hard to know why they're not together — or why they didn't date after their first momentous encounter.

The actors give it everything. Alison Brie pops her saucer eyes, and all but sings her lines. When she conspires with Jake about his various lovers, she drops her voice so that it's full of husky irony — and then, when Lainey is excited, she lets it fly up into a demented tinkle.

Sudeikis has never been so appealing. His Jake is the sort of funny, attentive guy whose vibe suggests he really likes women even if he doesn't — or doesn't know what he likes, which makes him dangerous to any woman who falls for him.

Headland supplies the leads with a great group of confidantes. Jason Mantzoukas is the family man with whom Jake invents a piece of software that will make them millions, and he and Andrea Savage as his wife are such a funny Greek chorus that they get almost the entire closing credit sequence to riff. Amanda Peet plays the head of the company that makes Jake rich and the object of his romantic attentions. Her final scene is harsh and angry and doesn't fit into the standard rom-com template. To which I say, "Good."

No studio wanted to make Sleeping With Other People. It's an indie film, produced by Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, along with Jessica Elbaum, who runs their production company. That's enough to disturb the sleep of anyone who longs for mainstream Hollywood comedies with dissonant, messy emotions and what we used to call "sexual frankness." But I think movie lovers' relationship with Headland could be a lasting one.

Copyright 2015 Fresh Air. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/programs/fresh-air/.

Transcript

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

The sex comedy "Sleeping With Other People" is the second feature by sometime playwright Leslye Headland, who made the dark 2012 female ensemble comedy "Bachelorette." The new film stars Alison Brie, best known as Trudy Campbell in the TV series "Mad Men" and Jason Sudeikis of "Saturday Night Live" and the hit movie "Horrible Bosses." Film critic David Edelstein has this review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: "Sleeping With Other People" has the ark of a conventional mainstream rom-com, but the beats are scrambled. And the movie gets a climactic event out of the way in the prologue. The film actually opens with the male and female protagonists having sex, taking each other's virginity. We first see Alison Brie's Lainey as a college student, pounding drunkenly on the door of a teaching assistant she has a crush on. Another student, Jake, played by Jason Sudeikis, steps in to keep her getting thrown out of the dorm. Having met cute, they bond, sleep together and separate for more than a decade. When they bump into each other again, it's at a meeting for sex addicts and people who can't be faithful, a second meet-cute. Writer-director Leslye Headland has said in interviews that she holed up to write the film after the release of her raunchy first feature "Bachelorette." That movie did OK, not great. But when it faded from view and she ended a relationship, she went into an emotional dark time. "Sleeping With Other People" has a headlong quality, as if it's gushing from the brain of someone who saw "When Harry Met Sally" 10 times and is furiously reworking the template to fit her own reality, adding more casual sex and emotional weirdness and roughening the edges. Lainey destroys every relationship by cheating with that same teaching assistant she didn't find in the first scene. He's now a twerp of a doctor played by Adam Scott, with a caterpillar mustache. And it's clear he's just using her. Jake compulsively cheats on girlfriends, too. And his attempts to explain why are so convoluted, you can barely focus on the words. But rather than falling into bed in the course of their reunion, Lainey and Jake see another design for living.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE")

ALISON BRIE: (As Lainey) We've got to just be friends.

JASON SUDEIKIS: (As Jake) Yes. That is the mature, responsible thing to do for each other and ourselves. Yes, I agree. OK, but then we've got to come up with a system if we're going to be friends, you know?

BRIE: (As Lainey) OK.

SUDEIKIS: (As Jake) And I want to be good friends, but we've got to have a system here.

BRIE: (As Lainey) That's fair. So maybe we come up with a safe word for if we're having sexual tension and then we'll stop whatever is creating the tension.

SUDEIKIS: (As Jake) So if you're doing something or I'm doing something sexy?

BRIE: (As Lainey) Or if we're feeling attracted we say...

SUDEIKIS: (As Jake) OK, but it's mutual? So it is mutual?

BRIE: (As Lainey) ...The word.

SUDEIKIS: You're saying it's mutual?

BRIE: (As Lainey) It could be mutual.

SUDEIKIS: (As Jake) That's a yes.

BRIE: (As Lainey) I may...

SUDEIKIS: (As Jake) That's a yes.

BRIE: (As Lainey) ...Or may not need to use the word. We'll have to see in the future what happens.

SUDEIKIS: (As Jake) Ok, well, all right - safe word.

BRIE: (As Lainey) We'll say - yeah, anything.

SUDEIKIS: (As Jake) Let's go. Come up with one. What do you got? I'll do anything. You pick it and - yes.

BRIE: (As Lainey) It's avocado.

SUDEIKIS: (As Jake) No, can't do that.

BRIE: (As Lainey) No? (Laughter). It was just immediate veto.

SUDEIKIS: (As Jake) Well, I mean, it's too sexual. It's too sexual of a...

BRIE: (As Lainey) Avocado is too sexual?

SUDEIKIS: (As Jake) Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, you've got to see the way I eat an avocado. You'd be like, that's, like - you know, do that to me.

EDELSTEIN: You can hear it in that scene, right? In "Sleeping With Other People," Lainey and Jake are so on with each other. They trade quips like bebop lines, picking up on each other's last notes and building on the theme. They're so good a fit, it's hard to know why they're not together or why they didn't date after their first momentous encounter. But the safe word they do settle on tells you much about how they see sex. It's mousetrap. The actors give it everything. Alison Brie pops her saucer eyes and all but sings her lines. When she conspires with Jake about his various lovers, she drops her voice so that it's full of husky irony. And then when Lainey is excited, she lets it fly up into a demented tinkle. Sudeikis has never been so appealing. His Jake is the sort of funny, attentive guy whose vibe suggests he really likes women, even if he doesn't or doesn't know what he likes, which makes him dangerous to any woman who falls for him. Headland supplies the leads with a great group of confidants. Jason Mantzoukas, the family man with whom Jake invents a piece of software that will make them millions. And he and Andrea Savage, as his wife, are such a funny Greek chorus that they get almost the entire closing credit sequence to riff. Amanda Peet plays the head of a company that makes Jack rich, and the object of his romantic attentions. Her final scene is harsh and angry and doesn't fit into the standard rom-com template, to which I say good. No studio wanted to make "Sleeping With Other People." It's an indie film, produced by Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, along with Jessica Elbaum, who runs their production company. That's enough to disturb the sleep of anyone who longs for mainstream Hollywood comedies with dissonant, messy emotions and what we used to call sexual frankness. But I think movie lovers' relationship with Leslye Headland could be a lasting one.

DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine. On Monday's FRESH AIR, we talk with Scott Shane, national security reporter for The New York Times about the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was assassinated in a U.S. drone strike four years ago. Awlaki has become a martyr and an inspiration for would-be jihadists. Shane's new book is "Objective Troy: A Terrorist, A President, And The Rise Of The Drone." Hope you can join us then. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Support your
public radio station