It’s a strange thing when you have two up-and-coming actors, one well on their way to legitimate leading man status, in a fun, crass, sex comedy and it has so little hype behind it. Could be a stinker.
Writer/director Leslye Headland’s film Sleeping With Other People follows two broken people trying to find something outside the boundaries of normal sexual relationships. One is Jason Sudeikis’ Jake, a hyper-smart womanizer who’s hit that age (the one that romantic comedies have deemed “time for adulthood”) where womanizing just isn’t doing it anymore. The other is Lainey (Alison Brie), a kindergarten teacher obsessed with a mentally abusive former fling (Adam Scott in a role that makes me think he could be great as a super-villain). 20 years ago the two lost their virginities to each other in college and, both reeling from recent break-ups, meet at a sex addicts anonymous meeting (though neither ever seems particularly addicted to sex). For whatever reason the two decide to become friends, but friends who will never have sex, even going as far as instituting a safety word for when sexual tensions are rising. And that’s the film. It creates an atmosphere of sort of casual sex-talk and PG-13 lingerie-nudity, making the audience believe that this could be something else besides your typical indie rom-com, but then it locks into the rom-com track and the rest is well, overly-worn roads peppered with occasional humor. What detracts from the film the most are its two main characters. Though both Sudeikis and Brie strive to imbue these characters, and their relationship, with grace and humor, there’s so little writing actually aimed at the characters back stories and development, that their scenes end up being one-dimensional and the most boring. Instead, scenes with Sudeikis and Amanda Peet (an actor whom every time I see her wonder why she isn’t cast in everything) thrum with sexual attraction derived from their, brief, but shared history. Somehow Headland has managed to do the opposite of what most rom-coms do, she’s fleshed out her side characters but relied on age-old tropes to define her main characters and because they dominate the screen, it becomes less a film about them, and more just an exercise in waiting until they interact with their sidekicks. The film has it’s moments – a dance scene with Brie and a party full of kids is great – but it never throws off the shackles of boring characters and genre dependence, so it ends up looking like a well-polished piece of fake gold.
Jason Sudeikis is big now, but when someone gets him in the right BIG role, he’s going to be huge. He has a low-key naturalism that makes you think of the great rom-com actors of yesteryear.