Sleeping with Other People

(2015) ** 1/2 R
101 min. IFC Films. Director: Leslye Headland. Cast: Alison Brie, Jason Sudeikis, Adam Scott, Amanda Peet, Jason Mantzoukas, Andrea Savage.

/content/films/4839/1.jpg“Men and women can’t be friends,” says the sassy BFF. “It’s the 21st century,” the leading lady replies. And so the 21st-century rom com tips its hat to the 20th-century rom com that inspired it. Writer-director Leslye Headland has called her film Sleeping with Other People "When Harry Met Sally for a-holes,” which accurately describes how this slightly edgier comedy adjusts for cultural inflation.

Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis play Lainey and Jake, commitment-phobe Manhattanites who, once upon a time (as Columbia University undergrads) lost their virginity to each other. Upon a chance meeting at a sex-addiction support group meeting over a decade later, the two begin seeing each other, strictly as friends who understand each other’s major malfunctions in the relationship department. Yep, this qualifies as another New York-set rom-com that feels underpinned by years of therapy (thank you, Woody Allen), but that’s better than a rom-com with no sense of psychological reality.

True, no one talks like these characters, whose motor-mouths spew self-awareness and just-so jokes built around pop-culture references. But Headland does evince understanding of the worst of dating behaviors and their wellspring from failed relationships, which is enough to help us excuse the central contrivance that two obviously well-matched emotional-burn victims don’t immediately give each other another go. Providing the best of the sideline commentary—and a sort of Ghosts of Marriage Future vision—are two old friends of Jake, the twelve-years-married Xander and Naomi (Jason Mantzoukas and Andrea Savage, on fire separately and especially together).

Headland marshals a strong cast, including “other people” Adam Scott (as Lainey’s distinctively, realistically creepy OB-GYN ex) and Amanda Peet (as a complete-package professional woman who turns Jake’s eye). Brie good-naturedly sells raunchy scenes that could smack of misogyny (like her tripping kindergarten teacher leading kids in a spontaneous, too-sexy birthday-party dance, or getting a masturbation lesson from Jake), while Sudeikis—who specializes in annoying douchebags—modulates his typical defensive smugness and acid wit in service of a potentially redeemable character. Pleasingly, the film bubbles with mild wit rather than going for juvenile guffaws: Headland’s tone announces that her film will always keep at least one foot in reality.

Sleeping with Other People effectively has it both ways, with its dark neuroses and naughty humor giving way to a sweet consideration of the rarity of unconditional love. The ultimate acknowledgement of love’s value in a post-postmodern dating world doesn’t come across as a compromise so much as a good-humored clarion call. Sometimes people really do find others who “get” them, and those are the ones to hold on to, in whatever capacity that works.

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