April 1, 2023
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Life & Culture

Review: ‘Sleeping With Other People’ refreshes the romantic comedy genre

"Sleeping With Other People"

Directed by Leslye Headland

The modern romantic comedy is often criticized for its use of repetition, where two people with perfect jobs, perfect facial symmetry and perfect lives meet each other. They fall in love, cheat on each other, break up, realize they are still in love and declare their love with either a public display of affection or marriage. This is all to distract the audience from the hacky one-liners and overwritten dialogue disguised as humor. “Sleeping with Other People” is able to retain the feel-good functionality of a romantic comedy while poking fun at the genre the entire time. It subverts and deconstructs all of these tropes to create a movie that feels fresh.

“Sleeping with Other People” is a legitimately funny film. It is able to find humor in every crevasse of a scene. Writer and director Leslye Headland is able to incorporate comedy through visuals, staging and the dialogue between Lainey (Alison Brie) and Jake (Jason Sudeikis). In a scene where Jake describes one of his sexual escapades with a woman to Lainey, Headland could have written a long, unbroken monologue in voiceover as they show a montage of his relationship with this woman. Instead, she chooses to have Lainey interrupt his story and make jokes by questioning and actively listening to Jake’s story like an actual person would. It is this humanity and banter that creates likeable, relatable characters the audience cares about. This seems like such a simple element to a story, but it has been lost in a sea of gallivanting, modern cinematic princes and princesses.

Headland is able to incorporate some much-needed visual comedy into the romantic comedy genre. Take a scene where Lainey is breaking up with her boyfriend at a restaurant. Headland could have written it as simply that: two people talking to each other. But she is able to break the tension with a joke as the waiter desperately tries to do his job over their loud argument by pouring water and handing out free bread. Headland is able to use film as a visual medium to tell jokes rather than simply writing jokes for actors to tell.

The acting in “Sleeping with Other People” brings the same subversion and care to the film that it deserves. Brie and Sudeikis’ chemistry feels honest and charismatic. Their laughter feels genuine, and their glances feel vulnerable. The audience is given an almost voyeuristic view into the romance between two people who actually love each other. Their vulnerability persisted when either Brie or Sudeikis was alone. When Lainey began to cry, it never once felt manipulative — Brie uses these moments to show her emotions in the rawest form possible. This is opposed to most crying scenes in romantic comedies, where it becomes a way of instantly and cheaply getting the audience to feel some semblance of emotion.

Brie and Sudeikis are supported by an amazing cast of actors. The hilarious Jason Mantzoukas plays Jake’s best friend Xander, along with Andrea Savage who plays Xander’s wife. Not only were they hilarious together as a married couple of 10 years, but they play the perfect counter to Lainey and Jake’s newfound love. The end credit sequence where they are simply waiting for Lainey and Jake to arrive is gut-wrenchingly funny.

The only complaint with this movie is the ending. If the film had ended 10 minutes earlier, it would have been a perfect romantic comedy. The character arcs would have come to their logical conclusion, and it would have left the audience feeling the same heartache and realism the movie worked so hard to create. Instead it chooses to pander to those who would have walked away dissatisfied with the departure from the typical rom-com happy ending. In doing this, it subverts and betrays what the entire movie tried to accomplish. The ending completely disregards the style of humor and characters created in the first 90 minutes.

Even with this flaw, “Sleeping with Other People” succeeds in demonstrating that romantic comedies do not have to be formulaic for the audience to feel the love between two characters. The film shows that it simply takes work to build a scene with emotional complexity. It takes work to craft a joke. It takes work to act earnestly. The audience will not only feel the love of the characters, but fall in love with the movie. “Sleeping with Other People” puts in the work to show all what a romantic comedy can be.