Sleeping With Other People Dir. Leslye Headland

[IFC Films; 2015]

Styles: romantic comedy
Others: When Harry Met Sally, Annie Hall, The Apartment

Why does it always have to be so complicated? Relationships are a minefield of screwed up expressions and disappointments that frustrate as often as they impress. It shouldn’t be that way, we’re told at a young age; led to believe that The One is out there for each and every one of us. Terms like destiny, fate, and romance are thrown into the mix and yet each of us suffers many heartbreaks. But why? Who designed this system? How can it be unbroken? Or is it simply part of the human condition that weathers us and forces us to better learn ourselves before we’re ready to find someone for real? These are heady questions, especially as responses to a fairly straightforward rom-com, but what makes Leslye Headland’s Sleeping With Other People work so well is that it provokes these meditations while still delivering on hilarity. The frank musings about the screwed up nature of relationships ring true throughout the film, while the jokes and banter among the characters keeps things lively and always entertaining.

In 2002, Lainey (Alison Brie) and Jake (Jason Sudeikis) spent a night of blunt discussion and impulsive passion losing their virginities to each other — and then never saw each other again. Flash forward to present day, where Lainey is hung up on a man who will never want her (Adam Scott), and Jake is a classic womanizer who cheats on girls in order to spare himself the messiness of being emotionally honest with them. They happen to see each other in a sexual addiction meeting (which says a lot about the tone of the film’s humor), and from there a friendship blossoms as the two lean on each other to grow and move beyond their current foibles with the opposite sex.

Writer/director Headland’s film is rife with comedy that comes not from the obvious situational issues of people of the opposite sex being friends, but rather from the characters themselves offering up a chemistry that feeds the humor, seemingly effortlessly. Lainey and Jake have a great repartee that transcends being simple quip machines: they’re two well-defined characters complete with their own issues and complex inner lives. Sudeikis and Brie shine in their roles and are ably assisted by a gaggle of supporting players that add to the comedy, including ringers like Jason Mantzoukas, Andrea Savage, and Natasha Lyonne. But a movie like Sleeping with Other People wouldn’t fare as well if it didn’t have something to say and a beating heart underneath all of the jokes. Headland is wise to balance out the real emotions with raunchy humor and quick-witted banter, refusing to ever let the film slip into melodrama or any sort of contrivance.

That is, she is able to avoid these pitfalls of rom-coms. At least, until the very end. The finale, while providing both humor and pathos, still feels a bit pat and reductive. It’s certainly earned its laziness by all that has preceded it, but that doesn’t make it feel any less generic for a film that has soared by on its originality and unique voice previously. While hard to discuss without spoiling anything, the ending is the only letdown of the film, which appeared to be going a different way before it settled on this final path of least resistance.

But even with an ending that feels a bit too predictable, Sleeping with Other People still manages to score a lot of laughs and emotional truths in how people deal with relationships. Make no mistake — punches aren’t pulled in terms of frank discussions about emotions, sex, or romance. Its originality, sentimentality (the good kind), and humor all boost the film into the upper echelon of romantic comedies. In a cinematic wasteland of rom-coms filled with meet cutes, paper thin characters, and sentimentality of the worst kind, Headland’s film is a refreshing exploration of the inherent issues with relationships and the complicated people that get into them (or avoid them). Perhaps it offers up the simplest solution for why love is so complicated: because it involves bringing together complicated people who bring their own baggage, fetishes, and interests. If wading through the wasteland wasn’t a struggle, would we ever truly appreciate it when we find the real thing?

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