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Sleeping with Other People

Review by Christy Collins

Comparisons to When Harry Met Sally seem inevitable with Leslye Headland’s indie romantic comedy about two New York college friends (Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis) who may or may not be the love of each other’s lives.

The conceit of the two college friends reunited when they meet at a sex-addicts meeting feels forced, but this aspect is soon left behind – neither of them continues to attend and both of them later deny having suffered from it in the first place. They decide to be just friends, but the chemistry between them remains as they pursue other relationships of varying levels of seriousness and viability.

Sleeping with Other People prickles with moments of honesty and the consequences of questionable life decisions. The writing crackles with pop culture references, which locate the film firmly in New York circa 2014, and which also carry some easy laughs. Headland’s characters are almost caricatures: the smart, peppy cheerleader-type ready to lose her virginity (Brie) and the ‘late bloomer’ college student in the right time and place to take it from her (Sudeikis); the nerdy med student/doctor with ‘all the charm of a broken Etch A Sketch’ (Adam Scott), the beautiful high-powered career woman (Amanda Peet) and the IT-geek business partner and best friend (Jason Mantzoukas). But the very recognisability of these types is part of the charm of this almost fairy-tale about ‘the one’ – who is sometimes, maybe, right there all along.

Though the film’s sincerity swings wildly, Sleeping – like Headland’s debut Bachelorette (MIFF, 2012) – appears to be reaching for a level of honesty not attained in films such as No Strings Attached and Friends with Benefits. Sometimes this works; other moments miss the mark emotionally, leaving them unconvincing. Plot developments towards the film’s end are in almost questionable taste when used as comic fodder, but this seems to be how Headland achieves the uncomfortable sense that is her specialty – that, at a certain point, real life steps in and everything stops being so funny. Ultimately, the question remains if the main characters’ journey requires one too many compromises.

Headland’s work continues to challenge the conventions of the rom-com genre, and with Sleeping she brings a fresh, if sometimes uncomfortable, vision of modern romantic relationships.

Sleeping with Other People screens 2, 5 August