If “Trainwreck” is “When Harry Met Sally…”’s naughty kid sister, then “Sleeping with Other People” is its wiser big brother – but wiser only in that he warns you not to drink too much as he heads out to a keg party. It’s a delicate balance, and the ability to create relatable characters with such foibles and double-standards is part of the brilliance of writer/director Leslye Headland.
Usually, romantic comedies have to do with the messes created by people who don’t want to look at themselves; in a frantic effort to avoid some personal truth, our characters scramble around in the complications they create until Life delivers a two-by-four upside the head that wakes them up and saves the day. But in Headland’s hands, romantic comedies become a celebration of that frantic effort itself; rather than scramble around in the complications, her characters swan dive into them with abandon, fully prepared to untangle them as they go.
This time we meet Lainey and Jake, reunited years after an impromptu college hookup. In the interim, both have grown, by their own admission, into severely commitment-phobic romantic partners, to the point that despite desiring to pick up where they left off, they’re finally self-aware enough to realize that if they want to stay in touch, they’d better stay out of bed.
Forget about a safeword to stop; these two need a safeword not to start.
And herein lies Headland’s other magic touch: in unfurling the comedy of the actual outcomes vs. the avoidant messes (Jake’s first scene after college is a thing of wonder and beauty), she never for a second forgets or dismisses the poignant human struggle underneath them. “Sleeping with Other People” is far more sensitive and dramatic than might be expected, for this very reason – and it’s what puts this romcom on the mandatory viewing list for anyone interested in personal human journeys of any genre.
Unlike Harry and Sally, who walked the world arm-in-arm merrily unaware that they were married, Jake and Lainey are painfully aware that they are alone by their own doing, and walk the world arm-in-arm to help each other deal with that. What happens as they walk, I leave it to you to enjoy discovering for yourself.
Bright, bold, sex positive, hilarious, and even wistful, “Sleeping with Other People” is a velvet fist in an iron glove. Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis enjoy perfect chemistry, and Sudeikis puts himself on a new level here (or more likely shows us the one that was already there, you know how Hollywood goes – and yet another reason to heap flowers at Headland’s feet, since she created Jake specifically for him).
If you have any interest in it at all, your best bet is to to avoid the trailer and online pictures completely – they will completely spoil the movie for you. Just watch the clip above to get a sense of it, and if it passes muster, get thee to a movie theater.
Story: Two college hookups reunite almost by chance, and given the relational trainwrecks they’ve grown up to be, decide to abstain in hopes of being able to remain friends.
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Character Study
Themes: Boundaries, Friendship, Honesty, Humor and Human Comedy, Love and Attachment, Maturity, Person vs. Self, Self-Acceptance, Time
Starring: Alison Brie, Jason Sudeikis, Jason Mantzoukas, Andrea Savage, Adam Brody, Amanda Peet, Katherine Waterston, Adam Brody, Marc Blucas, Natasha Lyonne
Directed by: Leslye Headland
Running time: 101 minutes
Houston release date: September 25, 2015
Tickets: Check IMDb.com or your local listings
Screened September 12 via studio screener