I have a plea to anyone who thinks writing a romantic comedy is still a good idea: Stop. There are no more romantic comedy ideas. There hasn’t been a good script produced since Rob Reiner and Nora Ephron’s When Harry Met Sally in 1989, a career high point for Reiner, Ephron, and stars Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan.
You know what’s so great about that script? It lets the fact there’s no mystery to its ending be an asset. We get to know Harry and Sally, fall in love with them and watch them fall in love with each other over the course of their 12-year relationship.
There’s no way contemporary screenwriters are going to reinvent the wheel, but the wheels they’re using keep rolling over dog shit and are now covered in it. Romantic comedies these days have gimmicks. There’s the ol’ we-pretend-to-hate-each-other gimmick (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days); the ol’ it’s-got-Meg-Ryan-so-whatever gimmick (all the romantic comedies she stars in post-WHMS); and the ol’ we’re-just-friends-and-we-know-we’d-be-a-cute-couple-but-we’re-kinda-screwed-up-barf gimmick (No Strings Attached; Friends with Benefits). It’s enough to make you want to break out Bringing Up Baby or The Philadelphia Story (which, come to think of it, are both pretty gimmicky) and swear off everything else.
Sleeping with Other People (a terrible title, by the way) falls under “everything else” and the we’re-just-friends-and-we-know-we’d-be-a-cute-couple-but-we’re-kinda-screwed-up gimmick. Through a twist of fate that can only be contrived for a screenplay, Lainey (Alison Brie) and Jake (Jason Sudeikis) lose their virginity to each other in college. Years later, Lainey is hung up on jerk Matthew (Adam Scott), who treats her like crap, and Jake has become some kind of impishly charming Lothario.
By chance, Lainey and Jake end up at a Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous-type meeting together and decide to go on a date. And then, because they’re so screwed up, they decide they’d be better off as pals. And then they go on screwing up their respective love lives and comforting each other.
In fact, at around the 75-minute mark, they even admit their love for each other and go on doing nothing about it for no good reason, other than the screenplay demands it (and because 75-minute-long movies are a drag, even for people who like short movies). It’s enough to make you swear off romantic comedies forever, especially when you can see the ending coming in the first scene—even if the ending is kind of sweet.
What makes Sleeping with Other People rank above a “barf” rating is its willingness to explore the seamier sides of human interaction. Lainey’s hang-up with Matthew borders on obsession, and though Jake’s womanizing is treated with a light touch, there’s an indication in the movie’s final reel that he’s really hurt his current girlfriend and her son, perhaps irrevocably.
But romantic comedies don’t have room for real life. That’s why they’re comedies, and dumb, and everyone ends up happy. If you met people like Lainey and Jake at work, you’d think, What a couple of fuck-ups—but they seem nice, and I hope they figure things out. As characters in a movie, we think, Oh my God, just get together and get it over with. And that’s not a thought you want to have at the movies. Brie and Sudeikis are good, but this movie ain’t.
SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE
Directed by Leslye Headland (director of the underrated Bachelorette)
With Brie, Sudeikis and Scott
Violet Crown Cinema