Romantic comedies are, for me, a fascinating genre. Rarely are they critically successful, and yet, this lack of acclaim appears to have little impact upon their success. They can be utterly lazy, hackneyed and clichéd, yet for those self-confessed fans of the genre, this does little to dampen their appeal. Personally, I feel that anyone who declares themselves an ardent fan of such films and indiscriminately states fervour for the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation or the most recent effort from Richard Curtis are essentially buying into an idealised, glamorised state of love. Far too often these featured wild declarations of love are, for many, a standard to which their own lives can be measured against. Or, perhaps it is their predictability and inoffensive nature that, for many, provides an escape from reality, a source and form of comfort. I’m not necessarily suggesting that this are negative reasons for indulging in a romantic comedy, but I cannot help but watch with grim interest these ridiculous versions of relationships, in which love can only be quantified by an overwhelming, grand gesture.
Despite this, I am a fan of the genre, but only when they are done well. As such, my list of favourite romantic comedies is largely restricted to John Hughes and Rob Reiner. Over the top gestures, when set against the backdrop of teen angst no longer feel ridiculous, nor does the developing relationship between two friends. These films are not only wonderfully written, but they are also sincere and rooted in very real feelings and emotions. They do not feel manipulative (see every Nicholas Sparks adaptation ever).
It was with interest then that I viewed Sleeping with Other People, which readily declared itself as a successor to the sublime When Harry Met Sally. Directed by Leslye Headland, hitherto best known for the interesting but poorly executed Bachelorette, the film features Lainey (Alison Brie) and Jake (Jason Sudeikis), who after meeting at college and losing their virginity to one another, meet over a decade later and become friends. The pair are both struggling in their relationships, Jake struggles to commit and lacks fidelity, whilst Lainey is still secretly seeing her college love interest despite his publicly declared relationship with another woman.
Inevitability, the pair are drawn to one another, and in true When Harry Met Sally fashion, the duo attempt to flout the rule that men and women can never simply be friends without sex getting in the way. It’s not the film’s inevitability that disappoints me (after all, this is a genre film) but rather it is the lazy writing and total lack of appreciation of the comedic talents of Brie.
The film, in an attempt to appear edgy, references sex frequently and without subtlety. Now I have no issue with this, but when shows like Girls feature bawdy sex without ever really overshadowing the narrative development, it is harder for films like Sleeping With Other People, to feel anything other than contrived. This, coupled with the often problematic representation of female sexuality (Jake teaches Lainey to pleasure herself) means that any mention of sex feels shoehorned in without any character or narrative development.
I am no fan of Sudeikis and frankly, it still baffles me that he has a career. Even roles such as this, in which his Jake is meant to be affable, are, through Sudeikis utterly unlikeable. I’m not sure why we’re meant to root for Jake and Lainey to be together when he is entirely devoid of personality. Brie, on the other hand, is for me a wonderful actress, and she is completely wasted here. That is not a comment on Brie’s performance, but rather the lack of quality material that she has to deal with.
Sleeping With Other People could have been an enjoyable addition to the increasingly rare well-written and intelligent romantic comedy, but in reality, it’s reliance on overt and dubiously selected plot developments and cliché means that it is simply another addition to the already bloated roster of easily forgotten rom-coms.