The 1989 comedy classic When Harry Met Sally asked the question, “Can men and women be friends without sexual tension?” A quarter-century later, the new comedy Sleeping With Other People poses the same question, but changes the setting to the 21st Century culture of hookups, dot-com ventures and sexting. While Sleeping maintains some of the same charms as Harry, the new film also includes much more graphic language than audiences would have expected to see during the George H.W. Bush administration.
The story starts in 2002, as Columbia pre-med student Elaine “Lainey” Dalton (Alison Brie, Community) tries to lose her virginity to fellow student Matthew Sovochek (Adam Scott, Parks and Recreation). When her plans go awry, she hooks up with Jake (Jason Sudeikis, We’re the Millers), a fellow sexual novice. Thirteen years later, the pair meet again at a “Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous” meeting.
Jake goes to the meeting because he can’t stay faithful, while Lainey goes to deal with her continuing obsession with Matthew.
Jake and Lainey agree to maintain a platonic friendship while helping each other deal with their respective relationship issues. Jake’s issues include his attempts at starting a relationship with Paula (Amanda Peet, The Good Wife), his new boss at his technology company. Lainey’s problems include her panic attacks at seeing and hearing from Matthew, now married and a successful gynecologist.
The non-couple couple have some of the most frank and explicit discussions about sex ever seen in a mainstream rom-com. She sends him raunchy text messages about what she would say and do with Matthew, while he spares no details in describing his sexual merry-go-round as they shop for electronics.
The “green tea bottle” scene, in which Jake teaches Lainey the secrets of female self-pleasure, has to be seen to be believed.
They take Ecstacy and go to the birthday party for Jake’s business partner’s (Jason Mantzoukas, The League) son. As seen in the trailer, Lainey strips down to a small red halter top and teaches the kids to dance. As the chemistry (both natural and artificial) between Jake and Lainey starts to take hold, Lainey starts a relationship with a lawyer (Marc Blucas, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) she meets at the party.
The friends drift apart as their respective relationships grow. When Lainey gets accepted to medical school at the University of Michigan, Jake helps her pack and the friends say, “Goodbye forever.” During a date with Paula, Jake meets Matthew and lets him know how he feels about how Matthew treated Lainey. The incident drives a wedge between Jake and Paula, which forces Jake to confront his feelings for Lainey.
Sudeikis, Brie and Scott, all TV comedy veterans, carry out their roles as well as the formulaic material will let them.
Sudeikis maintains an easygoing charm as a womanizer. He shows that Jake cheats more out of boredom and frustration than out of malice or misogyny. Brie does a wonderful job of showing Lainey’s confusion and obsession over what she can’t have. Scott’s role as the unfeeling villain Matthew leaves him with little to do, except show off his “evil” pencil-thin mustache.
Writer/Director Leslye Headland (Bachelorette, About Last Night) shows that she can update the standard rom-com tropes for a modern audience. The story gives a realistic look at modern relationships, even if the conversations can get uncomfortably explicit for some audience members.
The biggest question with Sleeping will be if audiences will root for two people who seem incapable of monogamy. Can two dysfunctional people create a functional relationship together? Will ticket-buyers see a fun and neurotic couple like Harry Burns and Sally Albright? Or will they believe that the film’s title will reflect the couple’s eventual fate as much as their starting points?
Sleeping With Other People opens nationwide September 25.