It’s about time that Alison Brie landed a lead role in a big movie. Until now, the actress has been mostly relegated to supporting roles in acclaimed shows like Community and Mad Men. And though she’s always made an impression, her unique light has always been overshadowed by the auteurist vision of those series’ showrunners. But the touching and raunchy new movie Sleeping With Other People gives Brie the chance to simultaneously demonstrate the comedic and dramatic chops that have until now been separated.
Brie stars as Lainey, an NYC kindergarten teacher whose toxic relationship with a married man (a rodent-faced Adam Scott) has sabotaged all of her romantic relationships and inflicted untold emotional damage. But when a chance encounter at a sex addicts support group reunites her with Jake (Jason Sudeikis), the motor-mouthed lothario with whom she traded virginities back in college, Lainey gets to learn what a healthy relationship actually looks like.
Well, relatively healthy. Jake and Lainey are after all both sex addicts, so they agree to keep things platonic to preserve their rekindled friendship. That results in some palpably awkward and funny sexual tension, and the zippy chemistry between Sudeikis and Brie makes Sleeping With Other People worthwhile in its own right. But as their relationship blossoms and becomes more intimate in every other way possible, the film pivots in some delightfully layered and character-driven directions.
Plenty of recent films have managed to oscillate smoothly between comedy and drama, but the best thing about Sleeping With Other People is that the comedic and dramatic elements are always intertwined. Brie can be learning how to finger-blast a tea bottle one moment and suffering from a debilitating panic attack the next, and it always feels like two organic sides of the same well-drawn character.
The film makes fewer demands for Sudeikis to veer from his usual smug comfort zone, but when it does — particularly in the film’s final 15 minutes — he rises to the challenge. And unlike the recent Trainwreck, the characters’ addictions are treated with respect and honesty, not as a plot device to be discarded via montage.
Writer/director Leslye Headland (Bachelorette) guides the film with a steady hand, leaving the actors enough space to flourish. And unlike other comedies that run out of jokes by the final act, the serious moments in Sleeping With Other People feel like they are the point, not the result of dwindling creativity. The dialog is overcooked at times — particularly in the college-era prologue that shows how Jake and Lainey meet. But for the most part, it zings with a flair that recalls an in-his-prime Aaron Sorkin (who, perhaps not so coincidentally, serves as the butt of one particularly well-tossed barb).
Given the talent on hand (which also includes Amanda Peet, Jason Mantzoukas, and Andrea Savage), it’s no surprise that the jokes in Sleeping With Other People land as well as they do. The surprising part is just how many of the film’s emotional shots hit the bullseye. Of course the pairing of Alison Brie with Jason Sudeikis would result in plenty of laughs. But who knew they would become one of the most charming and emotionally resonant onscreen couples in years?
Sleeping With Other People opens throughout San Diego on Friday, September 25.