Staff Writer Kyle Turner’s coverage from the Provincetown International Film Festival continues with an advance review of Leslye Headland’s upcoming comedy Sleeping with Other People.
In the first act of Leslye Headland’s Sleeping with Other People, Alison Brie scoffs at her friend, Natasha Lyonne, over the necessity to bring up the age old, heteronormative question, “Can men and women ever really be friends?” And, strangely enough, the film is far less self-aware than one of its own characters, and not only insists on asking that question, but, unlike a film like The F Word or What If… –, it never brings anything new to the table, even in its inevitable ending. But Leslye Headland’s Sleeping with Other People isn’t bad per se, just rather unimpressive.
Jake (Jason Sudeikis) and Lainey (Brie) reconnect a decade or so after they’ve made their sexual debuts with one another. Both of them coming with an incredible amount of baggage – Jake is a lothario, and Lainey is impossibly in love with a college hook-up. Despite the sexual tension, they agree to be best friends. They tell each other their various issues caused by their myriad of dysfunctions; they talk a lot about sex, relationships, other things.
It isn’t that this plot sounds familiar – must I even explicitly name the film? – it’s that the only thing that seems to have been added to the plot is more sex. The sex talk is franker, the sex scenes are more graphic. (There’s a weird tone of sex “negativity” from where I sat, but that could be just me.) But navigating the complicated road of falling in love with your best friend, someone with whom you’ve become most intimate, doesn’t seem to have been explored in any more depth than the aforementioned The F Word, or even its direct thematic, stylistic, and even structural predecessor, When Harry Met Sally.
There is the hope that a female helmer would add something distinctive to this kind of story, since a great deal of romantic comedies are written by men, including ones that invoke that “platonic/romantic” tension. Yet little about it feels very unique enough to set it apart from films of its ilk. It almost seems too preoccupied with its verbiage as opposed to examining and deconstructing these characters’ feelings.
And to that, there’s a certain amount of credit due. Headland is infrequently amusing (to me), and when she is, the laughs often hit very hard. (She may have semi-successfully co-opted what I’ll think of when I hear Bowie’s “Modern Love”.) Yet a lot of the comedy either falls flat or feels strangely sexist. It’s not edgy enough to provoke thought, it’s just dirty.
Perhaps what Headland does bring to this film are solitary moments with Brie and Sudeikis: regardless of how sympathetic their characters. That we do get these moments of quiet reflection, or anxiety, or guilt, or anything else, is commendable. Brie is rather magnificent, her heavy breaths and comic timing going a long way, and Sudeikis is affable and charming, and his baggage seems more discernible without tipping the scale into cliché.
There’s a point in the film in the last act where you think Headland is going to finally subvert the very genre tropes she seems to adhere to, but the film backtracks at the last moment, leaving one unsatisfied. But the way I felt about Sleeping with Other People is not unlike how I felt about Headland’s previous film Bachelorette: both ostensibly want very badly to be unconventional or to be subversive or to turn its genre counterparts on their ears, but they end up being, in the long run, just the same thing, only slightly dirtier.
Sleeping with Other People hits theaters on August 21st. Catch the trailer here:
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