Director Leslye Headland's Sleeping With Other People is a romantic comedy that falls short of the charming sexual frankness it purports to offer. Jake (Jason Sudeikis) and Lainey (Alison Brie) are former college lovers reunited at a recovery group for sex addicts. Jake is a classic womanizer, while Lainey is stuck in the other-woman rut with an emotionally inaccessible Manhattan gynecologist, Matthew, played with brilliant smugness by Adam Scott.
Jake and Lainey are trying to work out their respective intimacy issues through chastity with each other, but neither their friendship nor their inevitable slide into romance rings true in any significant way. Their repartee drips with corny innuendo, more clinical than sexy, as when Jake simulates licking a clitoris on an empty juice bottle.
Skittish, neurotic Lainey has been dragged along for years by the fickle affections of Matthew. She's looking for a father figure in all the wrong places. Jake is a dopey everyman crossed with a slick know-it-all, an often confusing hybrid. When he informs Lainey about the mechanics of her vagina, you're not sure whether it's supposed to be a dumb come-on or if he's just so arrogant that she thinks he's charming.
Lainey responds with the zinger, "First of all, you're not the Mark Zuckerberg of vaginas," a statement at once so vulgar and so nonsensical that it immediately evacuates your brain of thought. While Brie has shown ample comedic chops in other roles, she is not given much to work with in a script that continually positions Sudeikis at its center.
The supporting cast, which includes Jason Mantzoukas, Natasha Lyonne and Amanda Peet, brings touches of emotional depth and humor to an otherwise drab affair. But these moments serve only to highlight how contrived Jake and Lainey are as a couple.
Sleeping With Other People is not totally devoid of swagger. After it seems to be drifting toward an underwhelming, emotionally mature ending, it makes a completely wacky turn in its final third, and it becomes leagues more watchable by embracing its 1930s screwball-comedy roots.
But the broken circular logic at the heart of the film goes something like this: Friendship is the key to true love, but true love leads to commitment, which is boring, as exemplified by the desexualized union of Jake's married friend, Xander (Mantzoukas). It's a fundamentally cynical understanding of love that you're supposed to find amusing—that is, unless you actually find it horrifying.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Over the borderline"