On the surface, “Sleeping with Other People” looks like another smutty romantic comedy. But in reality, it’s one of the most emotionally intelligent, tasteful movies about sex to date. Where “Don Jon” had trashy porn clips, this movie rejects actual nudity and still manages to render surprisingly realistic sex scenes. In the vein of “Trainwreck,” sex jokes mingle with moments of real emotion — and the combination totally works.
The movie sets itself up to be the typical raunchy comedy: a sex addict and a serial womanizer rekindle a college friendship that’s teeming with sexual tension. But Lainey (Alison Brie, who you’ll recognize from “Mad Men”) and Jake (Jason Sudeikis) end up developing a complicated relationship as they both struggle with their various personal demons.
In a refreshing turn of events, it’s actually the female lead with the most developed story and motives and the hardest decisions to make. School and career or love? Stay attached to an old flame or move on and risk a new romance?
Jake, on the other hand, constantly walks the line between good guy and bad guy as he comes to terms with the fact that he can’t sleep around forever. He certainly has a less emotionally trying knot to untangle, but it would be an impressive feat to give both the male and female leads complicated motives and backstories (and it would probably take about an hour more of screen time).
This male lead also makes you realize that, though you’re rooting for both characters to get together the whole time, you don’t necessarily like either of them. Their repartee is sprinkled with highbrow cultural references that merit an eye roll, and they’re both fairly self-obsessed people. It’s fitting, then, that writer and director Leslye Headland has called this movie “When Harry Met Sally’ for assholes.”
Still, you can relate to their struggles. Unlike the classic, formulaic rom-com, there is no single event or obstacle getting in the way of their inevitable romance. Instead, we watch poor timing and emotional baggage hold them apart in a way that mimics life with painful accuracy.
In fact, it’s the excruciating honesty of this movie that gives it most of its uniqueness and power. Lainey and Jake are refreshingly straightforward with their feelings, which makes for an open kind of dynamic you don’t usually see in silver-screen romances.
This movie also doesn’t shy away from silence, which further contributes to the realism. Just like in life, sometimes the characters need to take a minute to process what just happened and compose their thoughts. Things don’t always come out beautifully the first time when those awkward, relationship-defining conversations happen. And sometimes, as with any relationship in which two people are really comfortable with each other, they just enjoy a little silence.
One downside of the movie’s hyper-realism is that unless you’re very comfortable with all things sex related (and you’re sure your movie buddy is too), you’re going to feel pretty awkward during a lot of scenes. This is not a movie for your first date — or second, or third — and definitely not a mother-daughter movie day pick. This is a movie to go see with a group of girlfriends or bros, people you’re really comfortable with, who you’re willing to laugh and/or cry near. Consider yourself warned.
After the countless twists and false endings, after the emotional acrobatics this movie puts you through, aided by a heartstring-pulling acoustic soundtrack, the conclusion feels as satisfying and right as finally getting that first kiss after a long, wonderful date. And in the end, that’s what really makes a romantic comedy: how good it feels when all the loose ends come together.
Be sure to stay for the credits, though; you don’t want to miss a pair of goofy side characters cracking a couple minutes’ worth of sex jokes. It’s the cherry on top.
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