“Ph’nglui mglw’nafh romantic comedy NYC wgah’nagl fhtagn.” ~ Most Film Critics
Or, in plain English: “In its house in NYC, romantic comedy waits dreaming.” Apparently it’s been waiting for writer/director Leslye Headland, whose fantastic new rom-com Sleeping With Other People is exactly the shot in the arm this drowsy genre needed get off its ass and really matter again.
Headland, who recently wrote the screenplay for an unusually bright remake of About Last Night, has a salacious ear for dialogue, and bestows it to her memorable characters in sexy situations budding with natural romance. As two sex addicts struggling to get their personal lives in order, Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie are pitch perfect as Jake and Lainey, who discover that their platonic relationship is evolving into hardcore couplehood, even without banging each other’s brains out. Which of course they want to do, and so badly that they have a stop word: “Dick in a mousetrap.”
But Alison Brie still teases with tantalizing lingerie and, in what is likely to become the film’s signature moment, Jason Sudeikis teaches her the right way to masturbate with absolute, extremely detailed sweetness. And even when the sexual tension seems ready to tear the screen apart and yell, “Just start fucking already!”, Headland’s script remains smart and on point about all the real emotional hangups that threaten even the best relationships before they can start.
The consistently laugh out loud, thoughtful dialogue, spoken impressively by rich characters in engaging situations, sets Sleeping with Other People apart from most major contemporary comedies, romantic and otherwise, which often seem perfectly content to hang meaningless, only occasionally funny riffing on top of thin storylines that barely hold it together. In Headland’s world, every moment seems skillfully crafted, so that even an offhanded gag about the movie Misery evolves into a touching pay off. We are constantly reminded that even when Sleeping with Other People touches on old school clichés there is yet another spry twist coming, or at least a memorably honest depiction of some of the many situations that inferior rom-coms have otherwise beaten to death over the ages.
Funny, sexy and fulfilling, Sleeping with Other People instantly cements itself as the best romantic comedy in many years. So many, in fact, that I honestly can’t remember what the last truly great one was before this. Leslye Headland’s film is grounded in the rom-com genre, and will satisfy any serious enthusiasts of the form, and it elevates that material without any sense of shame about its origins. It’s not just a funny film that happens to be a romance, it’s not a romance that just happens to be funny as hell, and it’s not even high concept enough to raise an eyebrow at a glance from someone who would normally never be caught dead watching a movie about two people who just really want to fuck. It is what it is, and it’s just wonderful.