Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Review: "Sleeping with Other People"

"Sleeping with Other People" is the most ambitious romantic comedy I've seen since "(500) Days of Summer." It probably doesn't even belong in that category, since it contains many notes of drama and pathos in addition to plenty of laughs and witty wooing. It's also fairly raunchy, without ever showing any real skin.

It stars Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis as a messed-up pair of lovers who run into each other about 10 or 15 years after losing their virginity to each other in college. Each was a late bloomer who finally decided sex was something to just have and get over with so it doesn't become a big thing. Neverthless, it became a big thing despite their one night stand, with neither able to commit despite a string of flings.

They resolve to have a platonic friendship, despite the attraction between them, basically as a test to see if they're capable of a loving relationship sans sex. This goes on for more than a year, with predictable results.

I say the end point of this story is unsurprising, but what's unconventional is how writer/director Leslye Headland ("Bachelorette") arrives at the destination.

We quickly know that Lainey (Brie) and Jake (Sudeikis) are meant for each other; usually these sorts of movies are an exercise in the audience waiting for the characters to catch up with them. But here the couple also senses this, talks about it between them, but decide to continue the experiment because they value the relationship that's grown more than they care about physical intimacy.

Take Jake, for instance. He's a variation of the wiseacre lothario, a guy we've seen in countless movies before. But here Sudeikis and the script endow the character with self-awareness and doubt. He presents to the world the image of a fearless ladies' man, but inside he knows he's mostly a coward who's afraid of women.

"If you want someone to fall for you, you gotta be you," Lainey advises.

"Yeah, I don't think I like me enough to introduce him to other people," Jake says, but we understand the loathing underneath the quip.

Lainey, for her part, has been pining for the same guy since college, secretly believing he would choose her despite the way he's always kept her on a shelf. Matthew, now a successful OB/GYN, is played by Adam Scott, who's cold and manipulative in a way we haven't seen from the self-effacing funnyman.

He's just one of a terrific supporting cast that fills in the gap around the main players. Amanda Peet plays Jake's new boss, whom he immediately puts into his crosshairs despite the professional barrier between them. (He threatens to quit, walking away from a contract that will make him a millionaire, in return for one date.)

Jason Mantzoukas shines as Jake's long-suffering best friend, who resents but secretly desires his hedonistic, attachment-free lifestyle. (An Ecstasy-fueled scene at his son's birthday party is one of the film's giddy high points.) Natasha Lyonne plays the counterpoint role of Lainey's wingwoman, offering sage advice and a prod when needed.

I don't like to make predictions about how a movie will do, but "Sleeping with Other People" feels like it will break out a number of careers. Headland crafts some of the cleverest lines and vivid characters I've seen in a while. Brie is charming and vulnerable, a woman who can both admire and, at times, pity.

Sudeikis, though, just steals the show. Headland sets him up with a juicy part and he cracks it out of the ballpark. It's a familiar archetype that he endows with all sorts of shadings and subtleties. Sudeikis is entertaining yet believable. Plus, he's funny as all get out, spewing one-liners at a near-constant pace.

This must-see take on modern love is tragic, wise and hilarious.

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