Note: This review was originally published back in January 2015 as part of our coverage for the Sundance Film Festival.
The best part of Sleeping with Other People sadly arrives during its closing credits. Xander (Jason Mantzoukas) and his wife Naomi (Andrea Savage) are waiting at a location for friends to arrive, and as the credits roll on the right side of the screen, the couple engages in amusing conversation to the left. Some of it is normal, some of it is sexually frank, but all of it is entertaining. To spend time following this couple around sans the romantic-comedy trappings that plague the rest of Sleeping with Other People is a movie I’d pay to see. To be fair, if we could have followed around the actual lead characters (played by Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie) under similar circumstances, the same could be said. Instead, Sleeping with Other People settles into comfortable, predictable rom-com fare, with fleeting moments of smart material showcasing what the movie might have been. Oh, and there’s a lot of sex.
Sleeping with Other People begins its story 12 years earlier when Jake (Sudeikis) and Lainey (Brie) first met. Lainey is banging on the door of a T.A. she wants to be with while students down the hall, Jake among them, observe the ruckus. Jake invites her into his dorm so she won’t be forcibly removed from the premises, and after a night of deep, open conversation, they decide to sleep together. This marks the first time either one of them has had sex.
We are then taken to present day to discover Jake as a man-child who at the first sign of trouble in a relationship will sleep with just about anyone. Lainey is miserable in a different way — her obsession with an unavailable gynecologist (Adam Scott) is making her unable to fully commit to anyone else. Jake and Lainey wind up meeting again at a sex-addicts-anonymous meeting (complete with an admittedly funny cameo from Billy Eichner) and pick up their relationship, albeit in a friendly way. No sex, just friends. The keyword they decide to use in case one of them happens to get turned on by the other is “mousetrap.”
So what does writer/director Leslye Headland (Bachelorette) do from here? She settles for every romantic comedy plot device that’s hit the screen dating back to the original About Last Night (whose remake she wrote last year). Jake’s best friend is the aforementioned Xander, and while the two of them have good chemistry, Mantzoukas is playing a character he just parodied in David Wain’s They Came Together one year earlier. The female version of Xander is Lainey’s lesbian best friend, Kara, who pops up every 20 minutes or so at a coffee shop, restaurant, or bar to be a serviceable shoulder to cry on (and then inexplicably disappears for the last half hour of the movie). Jake and Lainey’s friendship becomes strained when the two start to fall for other people, when they inevitably discover how they truly feel about one another, etc., etc., evermore, so it goes.
The script is not without its merits. I don’t know of many R-rated romantic comedies that have a Georgia O’Keefe reference related to the inside of someone’s pants, and there are a few other laugh-out-loud moments. There is Jake’s extended Beatles/Blues Traveler analogy, Lainey’s molly-infused, sexy dance to David Bowie’s “Modern Love” in front of children at a birthday party, and Jake’s instruction on how Lainey can perform a certain sexual activity by using an empty bottle of green tea as an example is the film’s highlight. Unfortunately, the overwhelming feeling of been-there-done-that remains throughout the rest of its runtime.
The most frustrating aspect of Sleeping with Other People is that the performers are quite good with the roles they’ve been given, and everyone has freakishly good chemistry with one another. Amanda Peet as Jake’s boss, Paula, plays off her employee’s insistence upon taking her out with cool composure before predictably relenting. Marc Blucas (Hey, it’s the guy who played Riley on Buffy the Vampire Slayer! Drink!) is likeable in a small role as a new love interest of Lainey’s. As stated at the top, Mantzoukas and Savage are hilarious together, and while Sudeikis and Brie prove to be natural leads, they along with everyone else are given little to work with here. The problem is that the performances and the characters can only go so far as Headland’s willing to take them, and she opts for an easy way out 99% of the time.
In spite of its faults, had the movie ended 20 minutes before it does (it’s the longest postscript in recent memory), it could have been salvageable. Instead, Sleeping with Other People is the type of R-rated comedy you used to find a single video-box of on Blockbuster’s New Release shelf, displayed right beside The Phantom Menace’s 15. It’s the kind of straight-to-video rom-com that would have starred Jon Favreau and Famke Janssen or Edward Burns and whomever he was dating back in 2000. Headland’s problem is not that the story isn’t there; it’s that it was already there in the countless romantic comedies that preceded it.
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