Sleeping With Other People has been described as a decidedly 21st century romantic comedy. I’m not sure I buy that. While Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie are endlessly likable, their relationship, however, isn’t nearly as powerful as the film seems to think it is. It’s never clear how much time has passed from their first meeting to their (supposedly) heartbreaking good-bye, and the scenes that define this arc don’t show their relationship growing so much as they present it as a fully-formed case of soulmate-itis. Rather than show the two becoming best friends, the film instead has them identify themselves as each other’s best friend without much proof on screen.
If you want to see this done better, watch Aziz Ansari’s Master of None. Although it’s slightly unfair to compare the character development in a 300 minute television series to that in a 100 minute film, the same ingredients are there: a cold open hookup, a chance meeting, a rekindled relationship, and a bittersweet ending. But since Ansari is so much more effective at showing rather than telling this arc, the ending lands with more punch.
Speaking of done better, I found the inclusion of David Bowie’s “Modern Love” – used so well in Frances Ha – suspiciously derivative here, and not nearly as iconic. Why not go for something more era-appropriate, like Outkast’s “Hey Ya”?
The part of Sleeping With Other People that stood out most to me, however, was its pedigree. It’s produced by Gloria Sanchez Productions, a female-talent incubator supported by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay. And writer/director Leslye Headland IS talented: this is only her second film and it was well directed – better directed than Trainwreck (a movie it’s impossible not to compare it to). Headland’s best scene is a striking oner in which the spiraling camera not only complements the interactions between the actors but offers a nice visual parallel to Brie’s state of mind. But since so much has been made recently of the lack of female directors in Hollywood, I was expecting something . . . less traditional. The fact that Sudeikis is unrepentant about his serial cheating and has sex with multiple women other than Brie, while Brie knows her relationship with a married man is unhealthy (albeit more for her sake than for the sake of morality) and only has sex with one other person seems a tad safe. At least Trainwreck wasn’t afraid to show Amy Schumer sleeping around. Along those lines, while I enjoy seeing attractive women like Alison Brie in lingerie, I don’t enjoy lazy screenwriting: find a reason for her to wear it or it’s just gratuitous.
Like Trainwreck before it, I was disappointed by both the half-hearted romance and the traditionalism of Sleeping With Other People. Maybe Ansari will release a 120 minute supercut of just the Dev and Rachel parts of Master of None. Until then, the definitive 21st century romantic comedy will have to wait.