By Leslie C. Halpern
Recent movies about sex addiction – Trainwreck (2015), Don Jon (2013), Thanks for Sharing (2012), and Shame (2011) – all take different approaches to the unhealthy problem of dysfunctional physical intimacy as a substitute for healthy emotional intimacy.
Writer-Director Leslye Headland’s take on sex addiction is to update 1989’s When Harry Met Sally by replacing Meg Ryan’s perky Sally with love-addicted, anxiety-prone Lainie (Alison Brie) and Billy Crystal’s fast-talking political analyst Harry with fast-talking, sex-addicted Jake (Jason Sudeikis). The many similarities between the two movies include an awkward initial meeting during their college years (only in Sleeping With Other People they have sex), a span of 12 years before the relationship reignites, and a close friendship with a stable romantic couple who serve as a contrast to the main characters’ instability.
Two Losers at Love
After their one-night college hookup, Lainey and Jake go their separate ways. Each has many bad relationships with other people, sabotaged by their own addictive behaviors. While dating one man at a time, Lainie secretly carries on a long-term affair with Matthew (Adam Scott), a married man with whom she’s been obsessed since college. Her love addiction to the nerdy Matthew and irrational behavior when she feels rejected by him is how she ended up in Jake’s college dorm in the first place.
Jake has had no better success at romance. A confirmed, though good-natured, womanizer, he easily attracts women and then cheats on them with best friends or sisters when they get too close. He’s a smooth talker and generous sexual partner who plays the game for fun and resorts to hurtful behavior for self-preservation rather than taking pleasure in causing pain. His current attraction to his new boss (Amanda Peet), an illogical and clearly ill-fated effort, seems like a dumb move for someone so smart.
Friends without Benefits
When Lainey and Jake meet unexpectedly at a Sex Addicts meeting, they decide to reunite as friends without benefits, despite their earlier experiment as each other’s first sexual partners. They even create a safe word for when one of them is getting aroused, and they need to calm things down a bit. They develop a true emotional intimacy with each other for the first time in their lives, while continuing to date and have sex with other people.
Everyone can see they make perfect romantic partners for each other, except them, of course. Lainey moves away to go to medical school, and Jake becomes more involved with his boss. It’s at this point that the funny dialogue and occasionally quirky moments fall into all-too-familiar patterns.
The old rom-com formula where the couple appears to separate forever (although we don’t believe it for one minute) precedes some uncomfortable and out-of-character cliches that wrap up the story. Lainey’s a sweet schoolteacher who resorts to blackmail; Jake’s a ladies’ man who engages in physical violence. These two desperate measures seem more like desperate measures of a screenwriter trying to resolve the story than the actions of two people in love. Funny at times and blessed with two likable leads, this movie lacks a fresh take on the filmmaking, but offers its own voice on the subject of sexual addiction.
Sleeping with Other People
A sex addict and a love addict try to overcome their problems and have a real relationship with each other.
- Stars: Jason Sudeikis, Alison Brie, Amanda Peet, Adam Scott, Natasha Lyonne, Adam Brody
- Writer-Director: Leslye Headland
- Genre: Romantic Comedy
- Run Time: 95 minutes
- MPAA Rating: R (for strong sexual content, language including sexual references, and some drug use)