Friday, 13 November 2015

Movie Review: Sleeping With Other People (2015)



Maybe because it’s due to my own social hermitism, or as an extension of my aversion to certain labels, but I’ve never understood the notion of a ‘date movie’. The reason this confuses me as it does is that, more times than not, it’s applied to rom-coms; this is assuming that the only thing that a couple going out would want to watch is two people who could potentially be having a better relationship than they are. Isn’t that more defined by what the couple has in common in terms of genre interests? Hell, first time I went on anything remotely close to a movie date, we saw Up; aside from some emotional scarring considering how that relationship turned out, I don’t really associate that film too heavily with romance. Well, unless you have a sick mind and consider the old man and the scout to be a couple… in which case, seek help. Oh well. Until the day comes that I see ads for the next David Cronenberg release promoting it as a couples movie, I guess I’m stuck with rom-coms then. And right from the title of today’s subject, I’m already worried. This is Sleeping With Other People.

The plot: On a fateful night in 2002, Jake (Jason Sudeikis) and Laney (Alison Brie) lose their virginities to each other. 13 years later, after they went their separate ways all those years ago, meet back up again. In the interim, they have become sex addicts and have encountered numerous relationship issues because of that. Out of fear that the same thing could happen to them, the two refrain from going steady and stay best friends, giving each other advice to help them through their current relationships. However, it seems that sparks are flying between them regardless of their arrangement.

The actors here are very well casted and their on-screen chemistry is impeccable. Jason Sudeikis is almost supernaturally charming as our lead and Alison Brie matches him beat-for-beat, both making for a disarmingly natural couple. Adam Brody and Marc Blucas both play disposable love interests; Brody does well in his one scene and, as someone who still remembers how much we suffered by his hand during his turn on Buffy, I’m glad we didn’t get any more Blucas than was absolutely necessary. Adam Scott is meant to be playing a very plain and ordinary guy, and that’s pretty much what we get from him. But probably the most surprising addition to the cast is Natasha Lyonne as Laney’s friend Kara, essentially repackaging her advisory role from American Pie.

One of my big problems with the romantic comedy genre as a whole is that it can largely feel like a heavy block of waiting around for the two leads to get together, since there usually is no good reason for them not to already be a couple. Thankfully, we get a refreshing change of pace thanks to the film’s central theme of infidelity and commitment: Our two leads, out of what is essentially emotional immaturity (or fear of commitment, if you aren’t sick of that phrase just yet), simply aren’t ready to be with each other. They are both presented as promiscuous in their own ways, which does end up leading into some rather questionable gender politics concerning the dating double standard, but points for at least showing some awareness of how broken those mindsets are in this day and age. They both know that if they try to commit to each other in their current state, it is going to end badly; this especially sucks, considering how they probably have the best possible chance of being happy with each other than anyone else they’re paired up with in the film. It follows traditional rom-com plot progression, with all the awkward pseudo-dating that entails, but it is actually saved by just how well said traditions are executed. Hell, the oh-so-loathsome third-act break-up is done so uncharacteristically natural that I didn’t even realize that that was what had happened until after the film was over. Getting crap like that past me is definitely worth some points. However, it feels like the film wants to say something about the dating scene of today, concerning why people cheat and what it takes for people to finally settle down, but it ends up being too constricted by its own genre tropes to be all that subversive. It does make a couple of good points, like essentially dismissing the idea that the only reason why people sleep around is because of emotional trauma and/or bad upbringing, but it could have done so much more. Basically, where Trainwreck ripped apart conceptions about sex and gender, this film seems comfortable with just normalizing the idea that some people take time to settle down and become monogamous, if they do at all. It’s a nice sentiment, but not as interesting as it could have been.

This is really damn funny, a lot more so than most sex comedies I’ve had to endure in the name of critical analysis. It follows the same style of vulgar, pop culture savvy humour that Judd Apatow changed the cinematic landscape with and pulls it off rather well. This is helped greatly by the amazing comedic timing of the cast, particularly from Sudeikis and Brie. Everyone keeps up with the quick dialogue, providing some nice subliminal-hit punchlines, and it stays on the right side of awkward to still be funny and not needlessly uncomfortable. As much as I take umbrage at the casting of Marc Blucas, it’s more his role that annoys than his actual dialogue, as no one here is really written all that wrongly either. If someone is meant to be an asshole, they are but not to the point of Snidely Whiplash which helps keep whatever conflict takes place in the realms of reality. There’s also a rather strange thing that I want to applaud this film for as well: The sex scenes. And no, it isn’t entirely for the reason you may assume. In so many sex comedies, the act itself is treated as part of the joke. As such, it usually devolves into the kind of over-acted thrashing around that makes Sophie Dee look like Sophia Loren. Here, though, those particular scenes are filmed with a very realistic sensuality for the most part, only devolving into the chaotic when it’s called for. This is helped a lot by the music, which easily sets the tone and, with the exception of the aforementioned rule-breaker, does sound like suitable music for those nights by the fireplace.

All in all, while it doesn’t break as much new ground as it wants to, this is definitely a cut above the other romantic comedies of late. The acting is good, the comedy is even better and the romantic development of the main couple is handled surprisingly well all things considered. It has touches of self-awareness and subversion buried in the script somewhere, but it’s as if the film doesn’t trust itself enough to go all the… way. How is it that a movie about two sex addicts would end up having the problem of not giving up the goods? Now that is irony. It ranks higher than Chappie as, regardless of its surprisingly intelligent ending, the character writing here is leagues better than in that film. However, even with how much comparatively weaker it is in terms of comedy, American Ultra made for a more entertaining watch overall out of how well its other aspects were executed.

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