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Sure. Movies are always evolving. Mainstream themes have for decades been bending expectations and limits with every passing year, and while what we see on film has certainly tamed, how we hear it has not. Time was, you could expect a fair amount of nudity and a couple of profane words from a box office romance, but while boobs and butts were on display, all the descriptors were left to the imagination. Nowadays, it’s quite the opposite with barely a bare body in sight, though every possible vocal variation for each nether regional part in great detail populates most conversations. Good or bad, times are changing.
With director Leslye Headland‘s Sleeping With Other People, some might find the frank use of sexual language a bit, well, jarring or perhaps even uncomfortable if it’s one of those first date nights, though by now, after a full decade of Judd Apatow and Apatow-inspired films dotting the landscape, it shouldn’t be all too surprising, even as it pushes the envelope further. What matters is how well it works in context, but does the overt sexual nature of the film help or hinder the story? The good news is … it does, and greatly so. Sleeping With Other People is an often funny movie, but more so, as it intends, it’s a genuinely honest experience. Here’s why.
THE STORY: It starts at Columbia University where a young woman named Lainey (Alison Brie) is pounding on the door of her T.A.’s dorm room. He is Matt Sobvechik (Adam Scott) and he isn’t answering. After she is nearly kicked out, and a crowd is gathering in the hall, Jake (Jason Sudeikis) takes pity and claims she is with him as security attempts to escort her away. In his room and on the rooftop, he two talk love and sex and both eventually confess they are virgins. So with that, naturally, they do it. This is pretty significant but they move on … without each other.
Ten or so years later, at a sex-addicts meeting, the two bump into each other again. She’s just left her long-time boyfriend after telling him she’s been cheating on him, maintaining an on-an-off relationship with Matt, who is now a successful doctor, and involved with someone else. She’s at the meeting under advice from a therapist. Jake attends meetings due to his inability to commit to a girl at all. They two are happy to see each other and spend a bit catching up, where Jake finally admit he wants to sleep with her again. Feeling likewise but thinking they should just be friends, the agree on a safe word (after much discussion) to help put the kibosh to sexual urges between them when together. And boom, friends only. You can guess how well that goes.
While they do manage to avoid sex, they subject is just about all these people talk about, though in the most charming and natural ways. Meanwhile, she struggles with Matt and their ending relationship while Jake tries to figure how why he dates so often and feels nothing. Even as the movie has a few lapses in the story and a couple of moments that go a bit too far (a scene in a police station is so overdone it’s crispy), there is just so much joy in watching the two leads talk their way through their troubles, it ends up being a surprisingly affecting film.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: While a film like this, despite it flourishes, remains bound by conventions, there’s is no denying the great chemistry between Brie and Sudeikis. The two are effortlessly natural together and more than with the humor, they absolutely feel like a perfect match. Borrowing from When Harry Met Sally, as two people destined to be together who struggle not to be, the theme is the same as the dialogue shifts from talking about casual sex with other people to outright graphic descriptions of it, one involving an iced tea bottle that is both funny, outrageously sexual and, well, weirdly erotic.
Then there is Jason Mantzoukas as Xander and Andrea Savage as Naomi, who play a married couple with a kid. Xander is Jake’s best friend and business partner and he and Naomi are the obligatory ‘other people’ in the film who the leads must compare their lives, and yet, they do it with some genuine surprises. What you think they might be and what they are is something all together different. They are funny and authentic and I won’t go so far as to say they steal scenes, but there is larceny in their lines and a whole movie about their story would be worth a watch.
A GREAT MOMENT: Brie, who is perhaps best known for her comedic work on television’s Community, is a supremely likable actor and here, she completely forgoes the tropes of the cute girl who saves the troubled boy as she deals with a number of issues on her own. That mostly stems form her damaging relationship with Matt (very well played by Scott), who is stringing her along for the sex even as he moves on with another woman, never hiding his intention, even if it is with bitterness.
There’s a brief scene where Lainey comes to his office to finally break up with him and he steadfastly demands the same, the emotional manipulation of the threat achingly clear. She is desperately obsessed with whatever they have, though love it is not. Unhealthy is more like it, but she has allowed it to manifest into physical need and when she wants to delete his number from her phone, can’t do it and begs for him to do so for her. It’s a heartbreaking moment that entirely shifts the momentum and direction of the film.
I won’t spoil what happens next, nor will I do the same with another tremendously impactful moment much later when Lainey and Jake find themselves at the end of a draining night, each shared with someone else, coming together for a confession that is remarkably powerful. It defines who and what they are and takes the tropes of the genre into a different direction.
THE TALLY: Sleeping With Other People has some tonal ups and downs that leave it a little rocky in parts, and a few characters fall a bit too easily into molded shapes, however, for what it is, this is a little treasure chest of goodies that makes for a fun and even touching experience. It’s what to watch.