Overview: Twelve years after losing their virginity to one another and now both dealing with complications stemming from sex addiction, Lainey and Jake agree to hang out on platonic terms. IFC Films; 2015; Rated R; 95 Minutes.
It Takes Two: Aside from its open progressive discourse on sexuality, there is nothing inventive about Sleeping with Other People. The movie, written and directed by Leslye Headland, is just another in a long line of films that seem to follow the paint-by-numbers “friends who fall in love” script template, made familiar by countless other movies, from When Harry Met Sally all the way to Friends with Benefits. Of course, that familiarity isn’t a bad thing, in and of itself. This set-up works best as a pedestal for comedic talent and onscreen chemistry, and often that is what distinguishes the fresher iterations from faded carbon copies. In this measure, Sleeping with Other People begins with a head-start. Jason Sudeikis (Jake) is a unique contemporary talent whose comedic brand, built from witty banter and smirking self-satisfaction, operates in a way that allows his humor to feed into (and not in absurdist departure from) his more dramatic accessibility. Similarly, Alison Brie (Lainey) exhibits in this film an effortless readiness to meet Sudeikis quip-by-quip, and has proven dramatically capable in her television work (Mad Men, Community). Humor and chemistry are not lacking in Sleeping With Other People, but the film’s defining preoccupation with sex works as a sort of shortened leash holding the two back. After a while, having their every conversation filtered through a singular topic becomes grating for the audience, a tired repetitive comedy note and a wound against the believability of the developing affection.
A Healthy Act: But if Headland’s script is a bit too sex-obsessed, it at least discusses the topic in refreshingly healthy terms. Jake and Lainey’s candor allows for some interesting angles of exploring the complexities of intimacy, romance, and the modern relationship between the two. Sex is discussed as an expression of deep-seated issues without an embedded condemnation of that purpose. The movie openly explores, directly and passively, the difference in the way the characters’ sex addiction is perceived because of his/her gender, with even Jake alluding to the biological symbolic difference of “entering” and “being entered.” While it may not finish these thoughts in any fruitful conclusions, it might at least inspire equally healthy post-movie conversations.
Overall: In the third act, Brie and Sudeikis take the movie back from the one-track mind of the first and second acts. As the characters come to terms with their feelings for one another and discover a desire for monogamy only when psychologically ready for it, the movie hits its most enjoyable groove. And, the film’s conclusion, satisfying in both conventional and unconventional ways, rights the ship and highlights some of the more delightful earlier elements.