After losing their virginity to each other in college, Elaine “Lainey” Dalton and Jake (Mr Green Henley Shirt) part ways. More than twelve years pass before the two meet again by chance outside a sex addiction clinic – and eventually embark on a real first date. But Lainey, still obsessed with pursuing an affair with an old flame, Dr. Matthew Sobvechik (Adam Scott), and Jake, admittedly a serial womanizer, agree to maintain a completely platonic relationship – complete with a safe word should their conversations or behaviors become too sexual. As Mr Green Henley Shirt and Lainey quickly become great friends, continuing to confide tales of romantic triumphs and misadventures with each other, they slowly begin to realize that the mutual attraction building between them can no longer be ignored.
The opening scenes and the initial premise are largely unbelievable as they paint portraits of college flings and their lasting effects on adulthood. The following, slow-motion run through the rain to chase down an angered girl with smeared makeup as punk music plays in the background doesn’t improve the scenario, though it does eventually change course and offer up a couple of diverting laughs. The rest of the project tries its best to avoid the romantic comedy tropes it initially depended on while also imparting a bit of dramatic heart.
That’s another problem, however, as “Sleeping with Other People” doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. The tone is consistently humorous, with Jason Sudeikis’ nonstop jokes mustering genuine laughs, yet severer moments keep cropping up. Frequently, it’s as if two separate movies are unfolding simultaneously. Even some of the more original gags (such as a crash course in female masturbation) are alternated with the darker concepts of real psychological disorders and graphic sex. The beginning details of sex addiction treatment and coping methods soon give way to the truths of waiting for Mr. Right and yearning over the one that got away. “You’re not an addict – you’re just a whore.”
In its attempts to be both serious and goofy, the film struggles. But, fortunately, Brie and Sudeikis are talented actors, capable of not only delivering clever bits of dialogue (intermittently written with perceptive verve by Leslye Headland) but also crafting characters worthy of attention and sympathy. No matter how formulaic it is to see the two lead personas – hopelessly right for one another – continue down disjoining courses, it’s routinely amusing to see them veering back to their inevitable conclusion. It’s a strange balance, with the comedy and drama working best when not intermingling, like a modernized take on “When Harry Met Sally” as the inherent degeneration of platonic relationships are revealed and the risks of experimenting with love become more disconcerting.
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