Movie Review: If you think meeting people is tough, try “Sleeping with Other People”.
Former playwright Leslye Headland made a splash in 2012 with her serrated girl’s comedy “Bachelorette,” a film that took everything that was warm and fuzzy about Paul Feige’s “Bridesmaids” and dipped it in a thick coating of acidic brine. That film was about a foursome of lifelong gal pals, and what happens when the chubby, oblivious one (played by Rebel Wilson) ties the knot with her longtime beau, prompting the petty and insufferable group of friends to be sucked down the whirling drain of self-loathing and despair. “Bachelorette” was sharp and pitiless, but it wasn’t particularly funny: lame-brained put-downs do not always equate to laughs, even when you have a terrific ensemble of actors at your disposal.
Headland is back with another film, called “Sleeping with Other People,” and it’s an improvement on her slipshod directorial debut — if only marginally. Here is a film about two world-class screw-ups: sex addicts, actually, who are so glibly oblivious to the harm they do to themselves and to others that the film’s obligatory happy ending feels like the worst sort of copout. It feels like Headland lent the same scabrous edge that distinguished the better parts of “Bachelorette” to “Sleeping with Other People’s” first half, then had Nancy Meyers come in and do re-shoots for the movie’s cringe-inducing (and not in a good way) finale. It’s “Shame” by way of Judd Apatow. That the movie is tremendously well-acted and ends up making a lot of genuinely insightful points about sex, love and maturity only makes this review more difficult to write.
Our two star-crossed fuckers are Jake (Jason Sudeikis) and Lainey (Alison Brie). Having took each other’s virginity in college, Jake and Lainey meet-cute about a decade and a half later outside a meeting for sex addicts. He’s hopelessly charming, she’s brittle and beautiful and vulnerable. These two were made for each other, right? Well, not quite: Jake is (surprise!) a commitment-phobe, a guy who can tell you the sexual definition of what is known as “noodle soup” (you don’t want to know, but it involves four flaccid… nevermind) but seems incapable of entering into an honest-to-god relationship with another human being. Lainey, meanwhile, hasn’t gotten over her first big sexual conquest, manifested in the form of an astoundingly dull doctor played with an unusual, flatlining energy from the usually more manic Adam Scott. The remainder of the film involves Jake and Lainey orbiting a series of plot contrivances, all constructed so that they avoid making good on what the audience already knows: that they are ostensibly perfect together, and will eventually live happily ever after. But are they, and would they?
Sudeikis and Brie are the best thing about the movie by a mile, and you should see it just for the lived-in authenticity of their performances. I’ve long wondered if Sudeikis, who is handsome and breathlessly intelligent on-screen, will ever make a leap from being a comic second banana to a bonafide leading man, and his work in Headland’s film makes a strong case for it. Occasionally, he recalls a funnier, oversexed Chevy Chase, but he ends up finding a loopy comic rhythm all his own. Brie, in a way, is tasked with the more difficult role, but she’s more than up to task. A screamingly funny and awkward breakup scene between her and her loudmouth boyfriend (Adam Brody) who is convinced, beyond all reason, that she slept with his brother (“WHO IS HOTTER THAN MY BROTHER?!” he screams in a moment of agony) is a masterclass in disruptive comic aggression, and Brie plays it to the hilt. A later scene where her and Jake take ecstasy and attend a children’s birthday party sees Brie showing off her impressive physical comedy skills, and she’s a riot. It’s a shame we don’t get to see women do this more often in film — except when, you know, they’re pooping in sinks and stuff (looking at you, “Bridesmaids”). The supporting cast is also uniformly strong, with a winning Jason Mantzoukas and Andrea Savage as Jake and Lainey’s domesticated pals, Natasha Lyonne slyly underplaying the part of Lainey’s similarly sex-obsessed best friend, and Amanda Peet nicely filling out an underwritten role as Jake’s tough-ass boss and potential romantic conquest.
“Sleeping with Other People’s” first half is mean, vulgar as hell and very, very funny. It contains a shocking amount of cutting human truths in regards to how we love, or more importantly, how we back away from love when it reminds us of the ugliness in ourselves. However, all that good work threatens to come undone in the soggy, overly sentimental final third of the movie where Headland’s acerbic picture eventually dissolves into tired rom-com schematics. Given the horrible, self-centered things we’ve seen these two people say and do over the course of 90 minutes, you wonder if it’s a good thing that they end up together after all. “Sleeping with Other People,” unlike “Bachelorette,” makes it clear that Headland, for all the bile and nastiness that she clearly likes to put on screen, is a big ol’ softie at heart. But one can’t help but wonder if there’s a more honest, less sentimental version of this narrative where Jake and Lainey realize they’re bad for each other in a purely sexual sense: that their capacity to use and throw away the people in their lives is toxic and that they should simply remain friends. Headland’s movie is ultimately a flawed, fitfully funny experiment that is torn between making brutally honest points about the modern courtship ritual and giving undemanding audiences exactly what they want to see: the Happily-Ever-After finish. C+