Current rom-coms seem to normally fall at one of two ends on the spectrum: the Nicholas Sparks style tale of star-struck lovers, or the outlandish raunchy comedy that puts laughs before emotion. Sleeping With Other People though, is one of the unusual entries that appears to defy being boxed into either category, and instead draws from both to tell the story of two unlikely rom-com characters, which both succeeds and presents challenges. Written and directed by Leslye Headland (Bachelorette), Sleeping is a rare tale of sexual navigation in the modern world that, at it’s core, is an honest exploration, void of any judgmental criticism.
During their college years, Jake (Jason Sudeikis) finds Lainey (Alison Brie) trying to break down the door of her Teacher’s Assistant lover (Adam Scott). After bonding over the struggles of their past relationships by starlight, the two spend the night together with both losing their virginities in the process before heading their separate ways. Now a decade later, growing up has done little to solve their relationship struggles, with Lainey having since become a serial cheater, while Jake has developed into a rather unapologetic womaniser. When the two meet by chance, they find a solace in each other’s inability to commit, and become determined to remain friends, even against their own sexual urges and much to the confusion of their happily married friends (Jason Mantzoukas & Andrea Savage).
While the reason for remaining platonic friends is fairly loose, Jake and Lainey never sway from conversations of a sexual nature, such as a graphic instruction of masturbation, although the two do construct a safe word (“Mousetrap!”) for when one is sexually aroused. Instead the two engage in a relationship that explores the modern highlights and pitfalls of having sex and dating but, more importantly, the film refrains from passing any form of judgment or shaming characters for engaging in such sexual adventures.
Brie (Community) is able to deliver a rather flawed character with a bubbly innocence, with her finely tuned comedic chops in full swing. Sudeikis (Horrible Bosses) does well too, and while perhaps falling slightly short in matching the depth of Brie’s portrayal, there’s sincerity in even his character’s douchiest moments. Regardless of just how morally corrupt at times these two characters may be, both Brie and Sudeikis imbue them with such a sense of likability that may not have been achieved with two other actors. It’s in the quieter moments though that the two really connect and sell their unconventional romance.
Mantzoukas and Savage hilariously steal almost every scene they appear in together, having a natural and appealing rapport, and doing what appears to be mostly improvisation. While they fit the needed rom-com bill of a married couple that proves “love can happen”, Headland puts a nice twist on what has quickly become a rather tired cliché, by having their relationship be one of honesty instead of the bickering couple living vicariously through their single friends. Their comedy sticks strictly to the more outrageous end of the genre spectrum though, and while funny, they tend to contrast against their more subtle-comedy surroundings, making them appear sometimes over the top in the process.
Scott (Parks and Recreation) as the moustached villain is both weasely and repulsive, but gives a hint of what has kept Lainey enamoured for so many years. Amanda Peet (The Way Way Back) appears as Jake’s boss, and the seemingly ideal woman for him, and Adam Brody (New Girl) as Lainey’s scorned ex-lover in a rather funny opening scene. The film also stars Natasha Lyonne (Orange is the New Black) in a rather pointless role, and who is severely underused, making a few appearances with the sole purpose of being Lainey’s friend so that she appears to have a social life outside of her time with Jake.
The real issue that the film faces though, is the fact that it seems a bit quaint for a cinema release, yet far too commercialised to fall into the category of an indie. The final act also has a case of having too many endings, where the film appears unsure of the exact message it wants to conclude on, and so instead looks to deliver multiple moments that seem like a good place to finish until the action unexpectedly continues to roll. Yet, even so, Sleeping delivers a surprising realness in its depiction of love and the struggles that Hollywood features normally ignore in order to achieve a happily ever after.