Negin Farsad is a writer, filmmaker and comedian. She directed the documentaries The Muslims are Coming, about Muslim-American standup comedy, and Nerdcore Rising, on geeky hip-hop. On the small screen, she co-wrote and developed the MTV series Detox, wrote for the animated shows 1001 Nights and Class Parents, and produced, directed, wrote and performed in Comedy Central’s The Watch List. A 2013 TED Fellow and the inaugural YouTube Visionary Award winner, she was named one of the 50 Funniest Women by the Huffington Post. Read more at http://www.neginfarsad.com.
Romantic comedies endure because of our propensity to swoon. They make our hearts beat faster when there’s a near kiss, a missed kiss, or a full-blown makeout sesh. We go nuts when the guy lets the girl get away or when the girl makes a huge vulnerable play. We project onto the couple our own gooey insides. We think, I can be charming and full of love like those two! I can feel the bigness of romance! But in real life we never run to an airport, or hire a marching band, or even leave a handwritten note. I guess we’re all bastards and these movies embody a quixotic amorous self. And so, we live to watch another romantic comedy, always looking for that weird, gooey high.
Sleeping with Other People tries very much to give us that gooey high, but anchored in a 21st-century post-hipster milieu. And while it has its funny, quirky, nicely done moments, it never quite achieves full goo.
Written and directed by Leslye Headland, Sleeping with Other People follows the story of Lainey (Alison Brie) and Jake (Jason Sudeikis), who meet as coeds in college. When we are introduced to her, Lainey is, as many women are portrayed, hysterical, banging on the door of some dude in the dorm who is playing hard to get. Jake takes on the challenge, because when bitches be cray, they need the mens to shut them down… with their dicks. So begins their flirty banter, which ends in the fated lovers both losing their virginities on what looks like a bed bug-riddled couch on a dormitory rooftop. Nevertheless, I think most of us would concede that rooftop V-loss is better than back-seat-of-a-car V-loss. Score one for collegiate romance.
The movie flashes forward some dozen years later, where we find Jake caught in an endless womanizing cycle (that first flower ruined him for all other women). Lainey is still obsessed with the dude in the dorm and has spent years with him in an on-again off-again affair. The object of her obsession, played by Adam Scott, has the kind of mustache that could only be described as “accountant for a 1920s gangster syndicate.”
Needless to say, Jake and Lainey meet again (at a 12-step meeting for sex addicts, no less!) and the sparks are still there. They strike up a friendship and admit that they both want to bone the living pants out of each other. But no! This is a romantic comedy. They can’t have their bone and eat their movie too! They decide that maintaining their friendship is more important, so they spend the entire film not boning but wishing they could be boning.
There’s a lot going for Sleeping with Other People, not the least of which is a delightful cast full of some of comedy’s favorite actors. Jason Sudeikis is always funny and in this movie he proves he also has the dramatic chops to cry (or he proved that there was a production assistant waiving an onion off-camera). Scene stealers Andrea Savage and Jason Mantzoukas are the crazy sidekick couple, the kind of shit-talking parents that you wish populated your PTA meetings. There are even bit parts for two fine New York comics, Jordan Carlos and Michael Cyril Creighton.
Alison Brie is always wonderful, the kind of actor who can play network comedy and prestige cable, and actually has. But this character doesn’t nearly do her justice – she has to lead the movie as just some girl who is obsessed with some guy. A big challenge for the modern romantic comedy is, how do we write a woman who wants love, but isn’t just some girl obsessed with some guy? It’s hard. Still, Leslye Headland manages to create some nakedly earnest moments out of Lainey’s predicament.
Even with its glittery cast, Sleeping with Other People has the feel of monogenerational whiteness to it. It’s hard to believe that a story set in New York City would have so many rich white people. This is a New York where Sudeikis and Mantzoukas’ characters sell some vague app that makes them rich-like-whoa and where wealth disparity never seems to be at issue. It just doesn’t look like the New York that actually exists.
And yet, to contradict myself, I’d say romantic comedies aren’t about anything that actually exists. They’re about an expression of affection that we don’t see in the real world. It’s love fantasia. Sleeping with Other People is an amusing stroll through the heart ventricles; I just wish it had a little more dimension in its romantic fantasy.