Every year it seems we sound the death knell of the romantic comedy. They often feel too “big” for a sometimes particular indie scene, and studios aren’t making them anymore in a market built for an international audience not quite as comfortable with (mostly) privileged white people having introspective conversations about what’s in their heart and what not.
So let it be said, that on this week in late January at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival the romantic comedy has re-emerged alive and well, thanks in no large part to writer/director Leslye Headland and her film Sleeping With Other People, starring Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie. Working within sub-genre expectations with a sure hand and a bit of a sardonic streak, Headland finds fresh ground to tread in familiar territory, not-so-subtly updating When Harry Met Sally… for a generation a tad more comfortable with oral sex and obsessed with their iPhones.
We’re in New York City when Jake (Sudeikis) and Lainey (Brie) re-meet each other outside of a Love Addiction meeting. The two lost their virginity to each other in college years ago. They’ve got the kind of immediate rom-com chemistry casting directors pray for. In fact, perhaps to biggest leap the audience must take throughout is believing that these two people wouldn’t be immediately aware of how in love with each other they are and simply ride off into the sunset.
But then that’s kind of the point. Not too long after our two leads reunite, they spark up the kind of friendship Billy Crystal’s Harry told us couldn’t work 25 years ago. Lainey can’t get over her horrible boring ex (a mustachioed Adam Scott) and Jake can’t stop having sex with any and every woman he comes across. Don’t worry, Jason Mantzoukas shines in the Bruno Kirby best friend role, as do Natasha Lyonne, Andrea Savage and Amanda Peet in supporting roles.
Where Other People succeeds is in the small moments between characters. Despite the familiar blueprint, the interactions feel true and somewhat insightful. Headland’s also not afraid to address the power that physical intimacy has on our everyday lives. Somewhere in the second act, Lainey confesses to Jake that she’s only ever had an orgasm with her ex. And though it leads to one of the film’s raunchier (and funnier) extended sequences, the importance of the fact is not lost. It’s moments like these that elevate the film as a whole.
The mistakes made by our leads are not met with judgment or over-explanation. We like these people because they remind us of ourselves. Exceedingly more attractive versions of ourselves.
Sleeping With Other People premiered at Sundance Film Festival and will hit theaters on September 11th.