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Sleeping with Other People
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by Jay Seaver

"Does the sweet & crude thing fairly well."
4 stars

The romantic comedy genre has felt a little tapped out lately; the big American studios barely produce them any more and the independent productions like "Sleeping with Other People" are oddly self-aware. The trick that a filmmaker is trying to pull off when making one is to sell audiences the chemistry between a pair of potential partners but keep them "potential" as long as possible, and writer/director Leslye Headland just lays that out there without much in the way of misdirection, which means she's pretty lucky to have a cast that can make the plot-on-their-sleeves thing work.

That mainly means Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis, whose characters Lainey and Jake had a night together in college and then would not have their paths cross again for twelve years, when they wind up at the same sex-addiction meeting. They walk out of that but decide to be each other's sounding boards, though with strict rules against hooking up physically again. The trouble with this plan is that they may be perfect for each other.

Headland builds a fair number of scenes out of what are almost interrupted monologues, with one of the pair stretching out a subject and the other tossing in a line that highlights a funny bit or redirects it just a little, building to full back-and-forth banter as they go along. This isn't exclusively their domain - Jason Mantzoukas and Andrea Savage have nearly as impressive a banter game as Jake's co-worker and his wife - and that's a bit of a signal. Conversations with their significant others before their reunion strive for this rhythm and don't have it; Brie's scenes with Adam Scott as the married man Lainey can't quit are horrifically lopsided in comparison. A relationship that works, whether romantic or friendly, is pretty explicitly indicated by how well conversation flows - when to stand back, when to interrupt, the ability to say any raunchy thing going through your head but calmly raise a flag when you don't like where it's going.

One thing that's a bit surprising, perhaps, is how Headland and her cast more or less embrace the traditional male and female roles in a romantic comedy even though the easy route might be to present Jake and Lainey as equivalent, even if the lady is generally the one who takes more crap for her promiscuity. Jake may be playfully called "slut" at one point, and it's Sudiekis's motor-mouthed performance that keeps the audience from seeing him in those terms. Jake is kind of awful in a lot of ways, but Sudeikis has a good handle on how this potentially cynical character can seem not just charming but sincere. It can be a tough thing to have a story's rake grow as a person but not become dull, and Sudeikis manages that better than one might expect.

While the guy gets to play the field but still come off as likable, the girl gets hung up on one guy, but that focus arguably gives Alison Brie a richer, more interesting character to play. She talks about love addiction, and she does a nice job of depicting how Lainey does seem weak where Matthew is concerned, although it seldom feels like a characteristic that defines her. That's especially true as she gets to bounce crude jokes back and forth with Sudeikis; she's tremendously funny and does a fantastic job of holding on to the other face of her character so that it doesn't seem like whiplash as she does both in the same scene.

There are a few parts of the script that could maybe use a little glossing-over - Headland seems like she would much rather just power through a moment that feels arbitrary than divert with an explanation, and the closing segment feels like she saw two places where this movie could be heading and opted to try both. That's easily forgivable in most cases because even when the film swings toward introspection, something funny is only a few minutes away. It doesn't hurt that characters who aren't funny are enjoyable to be around are few and far between, either; Headland's sophomore effort is a tremendous improvement over her debut of Bachelorette.

"Sleeping with other People" is far from subtle - Headland et al lay out exactly what they're going to do with the genre and then do it in enjoyably blunt fashion. That will do when this many jokes work and the characters this good company.

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originally posted: 09/22/15 11:45:52
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2015 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Nantucket Film Festival For more in the 2015 Nantucket Film Festival series, click here.

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  11-Sep-2015 (R)
  DVD: 05-Jan-2016


  DVD: 05-Jan-2016

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