Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie in Sleeping With Other People

I was dismissive of the romantic comedy Sleeping With Other People when I reviewed it a few weeks ago, but a second viewing convinced me that I overlooked its more commendable qualities. I still find writer-director Leslye Headland’s arch dialogue distracting in spots, but I’ve come to appreciate the charming lead performances (by Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie) as well as the ways in which the film subverts conventional rom-com formula. Whereas other movies in the genre present happy couples whose relationships are threatened when the partners discover each other’s flaws, the protagonists of Sleeping recognize each other’s flaws up front and do their best not to fall in love. The film is still a romantic comedy, which is to say that the protagonists fall in love anyway, but this occurs only after they’ve accepted each other warts and all. It’s an optimistic premise that reminds us that people can find happiness despite their imperfections.

In another deviation from popular formula, the main characters have sex at the beginning of the movie, then spend most of the rest of it trying not to do it again. The film introduces Jake (Sudeikis) and Lainey (Brie) as college students who lose their virginities to each other over the course of an awkward night. Cut forward a dozen years later. The two haven’t spoken since their school days, and both have grown up to be neurotics with sexual problems. Jake is a compulsive womanizer who can’t commit to anyone, while Lainey, though in a long-term relationship, has been pursuing an affair with the guy she had a crush on since college. Neither one is a sex addict, per se, but they both go to a sex addicts’ support group in hope of finding a cure to their respective issues. This is where they meet again. Discovering that they have chemistry together, they decide to go out one night, even though they’re both keenly aware that neither is a good choice to date. Rather than enter into a romance, they decide to become friends instead.

Headland charts their relationship over the next several months, showing the two as they come to trust each other with their deepest secrets. The developments are mostly verbal, centering on the characters’ growing intimacy, and much of the dialogue is about sex. Jake and Lainey open up about their sexual proclivities, and this leads them to discuss other aspects of their lives—in the process, both characters come to understand why they’ve sabotaged their love lives in the past. The characters become more likable as they learn from their mistakes, and Sudeikis and Brie seem more comfortable playing off each other as the movie progresses. (On the other hand, Sleeping is a bit monotonous as storytelling—Headland still hasn’t figured out how to make her theatrical conversations compelling on a cinematic level.)

Headland shows at least one happy romantic relationship in the film, that of Jake’s best friend, Xander, and his wife. These two characters also talk about sex a lot, and in a jokey manner similar to that of Jake and Lainey. The movie suggests that this behavior reflects the partners’ inherent mutual comfort—nothing is taboo between two people who trust each other completely. For this reason, none of Headland’s raunchy dialogue sounds all that shocking, as it represents a form of kinship.