Film Review: Sleeping With Other People (★★★½)

15457-1-11002015 Tribeca Film Festival: Like a breath of fresh air, Lesyle Headland‘s sophomore feature Sleeping with Other People gives the Tribeca Film Festival a completely unique romantic sex comedy. Too often, only one or two of those descriptors are utilized, but Headland is prepared to give you all three in equal measure, with some effective and unexpected drama thrown in for good measure. Her debut film behind the camera, Bachelorette, showed some of these skills, but this movie establishes her as one of the most excited voices in the genre. She gives both Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis easily their best roles to date, challenging them with comedy and drama that goes to uncomfortable yet hilarious places. It’s hard to make a film that deals frankly with sex and still goes for the funny bone or pulls at your heartstrings, but Sleeping with Other People is that rare success. It’s the best thing that I’ve seen at Tribeca so far.

The story starts at Columbia University, where Lainey (Brie) is causing a scene in a dorm. The guy she was supposed to meet seems to have stood her up, and it’s only when Jake (Sudeikis) pretends to know her does the R.A. leave her be. It turns out, Lainey was planning to lose her virginity to Jake’s bland hall-mate Matthew Sobvechik. Over the long night, Jake and Lainey bond and it turns out they’re both virgins. They wind up sleeping together, but it’s over a decade before they see each other again. Jake is a success in the tech industry, but is a complete womanizer, albeit a good natured one, not that the woman he repeatedly hits and quits seem to care. Lainey is a a teacher who can’t stay faithful to her current boyfriend (Adam Brody), repeatedly cheating with Matthew (Adam Scott), who’s got a committed relationship of his own. When Jake and Lainey meet, sparks fly, but they agree that they should become actual friends, not sleeping together and instead giving sex advice to each other. Obviously, they develop an attraction, even going so far as to have a safe word for when one is turned on, but it’s when the plot begins to move towards rom com 101 territory that the folks behind Sleeping with Other People really up their game.

spl795951_001-wm900Both Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis really impressed. Besides being an absolute stunner, Brie nails a complex character who is at times a slave to a desire she knows to be wrong. It’s the sort of performance that would be completely at home in a straight drama, so it’s even more welcome in a sometimes raunchy romantic comedy. Sudeikis has moments where it seems like his usual comedic schtick, but then a serious instance comes along and he more than rises to the occasion. The moments where Jake has to comfort Lainey are the best bits of acting that I’ve ever seen from him. As good as they are apart, their chemistry is even better, rivaling any would be screen couple that I’ve seen in the past year or so. Sparks more than fly. The supporting roles as very much in the background, but everyone gets something noticeable to do. The aforementioned Adam Brody basically cameos, while Adam Scott is the closest to a third lead/potential villain. Also on hand are Marc Blucas, Natasha Lyonne, Jason Mantzoukas, Amanda Peet, and Katherine Waterston.

Leslye Headland clearly set out to subvert the genre, and she’s able to do it with aplomb. Her script is sexually frank, while her direction is smooth and interestingly unconcerned with a lack of nudity. This movie doesn’t need naked flesh to accurately talk about sex, and even show it at times. Credit to Headland for allowing words to sometimes do the stimulating. Besides the casting of Brie and Sudeikis, the fine tuning of her script is the biggest success here. She’s unafraid to get dark at times, or go a long period without a laugh. There’s great confidence on display. Headland really is a filmmaker to watch out for, trust me there. Bachelorette was a solid start for her and a good movie, but Sleeping with Other People is a great one.

Every year, at least one film delights at Tribeca. This year (at least so far), that title is Sleeping with Other People. The movie is perhaps the funniest of 2015 so far, along with being one of the most romantic as well. When it opens in the summer, I think it could very well turn out to be a breakout counter programming hit. At the very least, I hope that happens, since it deserves to be widely seen. For all those reasons, Sleeping with Other People represents the cream right now of the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival crop.

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!