Like all critics, I worry sometimes about being too negative and only talking about stories that I dislike. Here that’s not a problem though, because I saw two movies and one I disliked, one I liked.
Sleeping With Other People
Okay, which did you think would go first?
Now, if you’re following me, then there’s probably one reason you’ve heard of this movie, and that’s this scene.
You know, this one.
And admittedly, that’s a very good scene. Lots of… backstory.
But then there’s the rest of the movie. The premise is that two people, who are basically sex addicts or serial cheaters or whatever you want to call it (more on that later), strike up a friendship and have all this great chemistry, but they ruin every sexual relationship they have with cheating, so they decide to never become romantic so that they can preserve the friendship.
Now it was probably always going to be dicey to make a movie where the heroes are cheaters, but, if that’s your premise, you should get it right. And I don’t think they did at all.
First we have Jason Sudeikis, who plays Jake. He keeps getting into relationships, but can’t bring himself to end them when they aren’t working for him, so instead he sleeps with his girlfriend’s best friend or sister or something so that they’re forced to break up with him. Which, first off, is just so fucking vile.
I mean, getting past the “cheating to end a relationship thing” in the first place… why does he have to damage, if not destroy, a friendship or familial relationship just to spare himself writing a gender-swapped Dear John letter? Because even breaking up with someone via text would be classier than cheating on them. Or if he has to cheat on them, like, wouldn’t most women be willing to break up with him if he just had sex with a hooker or something? Why does he need to bring literally people’s families into this? Yeah, sure, it works out well for him, he ends up with Alison Brie, but what about all the women he hurt who end up with losing friendships to this sex monster?
And by the way, I don’t mean to imply that the women who… cuckold with him aren’t at fault, it’s just the movie seems to think Jason Sudeikis is some kind of irresistible sex god. I know he dated Olivia Wilde, but c’mon… Jason Sudeikis. It’s not like he’s Chris Pine or anything, and I couldn’t see most women having sex with Chris Pine if he were in a serious relationship with a good friend or blood relative. But the Horrible Bosses movie went with Sudeikis being a sex god too, so I guess that’s just a thing?
Then there’s Lainey, played by Alison Brie. She’s obsessed with what can best be described as an abusive fuckbuddy played by Adam Scott. She keeps having sex with him, even when dating other guys, and even when he’s getting married to another woman who is pregnant. But they make the guy she cheats on a jerk who calls her a whore–you don’t want to side with the guy who calls Annie Edison a whore, d’ya?–and they make her have PTSD from fucking this guy or whatever, like she’ll have a panic attack because she sees Adam Scott in public and can’t get his approval or jump his bones or shit. They even give Adam Scott this child molester mustache for maximum tastefulness.
Get it!? It’s like he’s molesting her or something!
So we have Brie’s character who is just this poor, victimized angel, and then we have Sudeikis, who is a fucking psychopath… it just seems uneven.
I guess we’re supposed to think he has a jerk girlfriend he cheats on just like Brie had a jerk boyfriend she cheats on, cuz the girlfriend pushes him in front of a moving vehicle eventually? I wouldn’t know, because I can’t remember the last time pop culture depicted a ‘woman scorned’ character as out of line.
Her husband cheated on her.
At the end of the movie, Sudeikis even beats up the Adam Scott character for his poor treatment of Brie–you know, the same thing he’s been doing to scores of other women? Movie, you really can’t make Jake the hero of this story when he’s the villain of so many others.
And if he cheats on women to get them to break up on him, how come in one of his first scenes we see him arguing with his cuckolded girlfriend, trying to get her to take him back because they have an open relationship she didn’t know about?
Add to that, I just don’t buy these as motivations for cheating. If you lined up a hundred habitual cheaters, men and women, and asked them why they cheated, I would bet not ten of them would have an answer like “to force my girlfriend to break up with me” or “because I’m mentally ill and obsessing on Adam Scott with a child molester mustache.” So it not only makes for a poor story, but it rings false as well.
And heck, given that Jake’s character flaw is being unwilling to openly and honestly break up with a women, and he dates another woman pretty seriously before finally getting together with Lainey–shouldn’t his character arc end with him mustering up the courage to say “I’m sorry, I don’t feel the same way about you as you do for me, this relationship isn’t working, there’s someone else”? Instead, the Amanda Peet character figures out that he’s in love with Lainey and breaks up with him herself. So his character arc is just going from not wanting to fuck Alison Brie to wanting to fuck Alison Brie. Heck, I had that, it was called ‘finding out who Alison Brie was.’ It didn’t take two hours!
Even with the lame title (it was called The F Word in other countries), this is a rom-com I enjoyed much more. Harry Potter plays a medical school dropout who was cheated on, which combined with his parents’ infidelity has made him stop believing in love. He meets Zoe Kazan as Chantry and falls for her, but she’s in a relationship with Rafe Spall, playing Ben. Still enjoying her company, he decides to become her friend, but when Ben leaves on a prolonged work engagement in a foreign company, the two begin to wonder if there isn’t more to their friendship. Meanwhile, Harry Potter’s friends, played by Adam Driver and Mackenzie Davis, start up a more traditional relationship that progresses from flirting to marriage as the movie goes on. And if any of you A/V nerds watch this movie, please edit some of the Driver character’s dialogue into Kylo Ren’s scenes in The Force Awakens. I want to see him telling Rey “I can see your bacne through that blouse.”
So this one I thought succeeded much better at depicting a somewhat taboo or ‘edgy’ concept with a great deal of sensitivity and insight and enough of a deft hand to avoid any problem areas. Because you read that synopsis and you think oh, there’s gonna be some kind of friend zone thing, it’s gonna be bad, and I really don’t think it is. Daniel Radcliffe’s Wallace isn’t entirely innocent, but he isn’t a scumbag either, and he struggles with this situation of having feelings for his friend but not wanting to be the type of guy who breaks up a relationship, or tries to twist a friendship into sex, while Chantry tries to be faithful to her boyfriend while also wondering where their relationship is going and what exactly her feelings for Wallace are.
And I also liked that the movie was self-aware enough to know a lot of the rom-com cliches, and subvert them, but then also not make a big deal of “oh, look, we’re so subversive, we’re not doing the cliches that everyone has already mocked in those Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movies!” No, this is a case where avoiding the cliches makes for a better story. Like at one point, Chantry flies out to surprise her boyfriend and finds him talking with another woman, and you expect that he’s cheating on her and so she can break up with him with a clear conscience and get together with Wallace with a clear conscience–no, she’s just a friend, and the boyfriend is actually a very nice guy, and resolving the relationship drama won’t be nearly that convenient.