“‘Solve my problems with your penis”: Sleeping with Other People

SWOP 6-27-14-70.CR2

Sleeping With Other People
Directed by Leslye Headland
Opens September 11

Perhaps more than any other type of movie, a romantic comedy depends on the charisma and chemistry of its lead actors. Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie may be a little low on chemistry as a couple: They seem more comfortable when their characters in Sleeping With Other People are spooning than when they’re having sex. But individually they’ve got charisma to burn, and they fit snugly into the well-worn rom-com slots writer-director Leslye Headland (Bachelorette) has created for them. As Jake, a laid-back ladies’ man whose game is on the cusp of curdling into cynical shtick, Sudeikis fully commits both to Jake’s romance and to his roguishness. One moment he’s reeling off Headland’s raunchy banter with masterful nonchalance; the next, he’s gazing at Brie’s Lainey, the girl he loves too much to make love to, with awestruck tenderness. Playing a self-sabotaging neurotic, Brie is just as versatile. Toggling between a kind of buttoned-down, “adult” serenity and a wide-eyed, nervous energy that makes her seem almost like one of the preschool kids Lainey teaches, she’s believable as a gorgeous man magnet who is, as Jake puts it, so vulnerable that she “might as well be wearing a sign that says ‘Solve my problems with your penis.’”

A lot of the humor in a rom-com usually comes from the minor characters, but all the secondary characters here except Matthew (a wonderfully prissy Adam Scott), the pompous jerk Lainey is unaccountably hung up on, are woefully underwritten, functioning almost entirely as sounding boards for the main characters. Which is a particular shame because so much talent is wasted in those anemic roles, including Amanda Peet as Paula, the perpetually bemused boss Jake reflexively hits on, and a barely-there Natasha Lyonne as Lainey’s best friend. The dialogue is sometimes clunky too. Headland seems to think that throwing in a clinical term for genitals makes a line funny, and after a while all those penises and vaginas start feeling a bit de trop, lumps in the frothy little concoction Headland is trying to whip up.

Left to do the heavy lifting, Sudeikis and Brie maintain our sympathy through sheer force of charisma despite their characters’ sometimes appalling behavior. And every so often, a scene captures a small slice of life with refreshing immediacy, like when Lainey and Jake exchange a seemingly endless string of goodbyes until she finally darts across the street to the subway at the end of their first date. At times like that, Sleeping With Other People wins us over without breaking a sweat.

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