Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. And in the end, love triumphs and they get back together again. Romantic comedies have been using the same formula for years. Some of the classic romcoms that come to mind are Billy Wilder’s ‘The Apartment,’ Woody Allen’s ‘Annie Hall’ and Rob Reiner’s ‘When Harry Met Sally.’ The latter dealt with whether a man and woman can be friends without having sex. Enter writer/director Leslye Headland (About Last Night, Bachelorette) with her new romcom ‘Sleeping with Other People.’ It’s being called the anti-romantic comedy and is cut from the same cloth as films such as ‘Trainwreck.’ When viewing ‘Sleeping with Other People,’ you discover that it’s not a new modern romcom but an updated one with tropes similar to ‘When Harry Met Sally’ which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Headland describes her sex comedy film as “When Harry Met Sally for a**holes.” There is definitely more sex and raunchy dialogue flung around from scene to scene than in a standard romcom. The prologue shows us how Lainey (Alison Brie) and Jake (Jason Sudeikis) accidentally meet in a college dormitory. On a New York rooftop, the two lose their virginity to each other and then lose touch for 12 years. They stumble upon each other at a sex addiction meeting. Jake is a womanizer and Lainey is in a self-destructive relationship with her ex (Adam Scott), a married OB-GYN with a creepy moustache. Lainey’s problem is not really sex addiction as much as it is an obsession for the wrong man. When they hump in his office, it is obvious that the doctor is just using her for sex. Sex scenes in ‘Sleeping with Other People’ are always shown with a lot of awkward fumbling and confusion like in real life.
It turns out that Jake also has relationship issues. There is a terrific scene of him chasing after a woman on the streets of New York City that has learned he had sex with her best friend. It’s a comedic scene out of a Buster Keaton movie as she pushes Jake into oncoming traffic as he nearly gets hit by a speeding taxi. Jake and Lainey are both wounded souls who decide to embark on a platonic relationship. If their hormones begin to rage for each other, they utter the safe word “mousetrap.” It is fun to watch them become close friends and of course we are rooting for them to eventually get together. That’s a tried-and-true romcom formula that we have come to expect and that’s why ‘Sleeping with Other People’ is actually more traditional in its beats as their relationship deepens. Some of the best dialogue unfolds when the two of them are eating Ben & Jerry’s ice cream on the couch or just sharing a meal at their favorite Chinese restaurant. This is when Headland is at her best, creating witty dialogue among her lead characters that feels natural.
This film even pays homage to the iconic Meg Ryan orgasm scene at the New York delicatessen. Jake gives Lainey a lesson on how to pleasure herself with the use of a green tea bottle and his fingers as a visual aid. He even goes as far as comparing a woman’s clitoris to the red knob on an I.B.M. Thinkpad. It sounds preposterous but it certainly will be an educational eye-opener for men in the audience. Another funny moment comes out of nowhere when Jack and Lainey show up to a kid’s birthday party at his business partner’s home. Jason Mantzoukas and Andrea Savage as his wife have some of the funniest lines in the movie together. In the next sequence Lainey the schoolmarm, breaks out in a sexy dance number as the kids follow her lead to the music of David Bowie’s ‘Modern Love.’ It’s a scene that doesn’t necessarily drive the story forward as much as it shows us how cute and playful Brie’s character can be. There’s also a scene where she tries on sexy lingerie in front of Jake. Poor Jake certainly has earned his stripes as the loyal, platonic friend but at this point we are rooting for them to wake up and smell the espresso. They are meant for each other.
‘Sleeping with Other People’ is not without its flaws. It’s trying to be a modern romcom but you can tell that Headland watched ‘When Harry Met Sally’ a dozen times for inspiration. That’s not a bad thing but it takes away from this being an unconventional variant on the romcom formula. There is no question that Headland is a talented voice for millennials. She will eventually create an edgy romcom that will define her generation. For now, ‘Sleeping with Other People’ has two refreshing leads in Sudeikis and Brie that skillfully navigate the joys and heartbreak of modern romance. Check out the official IFC Films trailer https://youtu.be/RG3Q2ua5izw.