Jason Sudeikis is at an interesting point in his career – a career that reminds me an awful lot of Chevy Chase’s career in the late ‘70s. To be fair, Chase pursued movie stardom after only one full season of SNL and Sudeikis was a mainstay on the show for many, many years. Before Chase hit it big with National Lampoon’s Vacation and Fletch (I suppose we could count Caddyshack, but that’s really an ensemble piece instead of a Chase star vehicle) he was starring in movies like Seems Like Old Times and Foul Play. Basically playing a string of fast talking, wise cracking ladies’ men – which sounds an awful lot like what Sudeikis is doing right now.
In Sleeping With Other People, Leslye Headland’s follow-up to Bachelorette that premiered Saturday night at the Sundance Film Festival, she takes Sudeikis’ on-screen persona and uses it to great effect. OK, now, let me explain what I mean by that last sentence: Sudeikis plays the same quick-witted, confident person we’ve seen in Horrible Bosses and We’re the Millers — his character’s name is Jake this time – but when Jake’s attitude changes, matures, it almost has a greater effect because we’ve been with this guy in past movies. It’s here that he finally grows up. There’s actual weight to Sudeikis beginning to act like an adult.
Jake has an addiction to sex, which leads him to a sex addicts meeting, where he runs into Lainey (Alison Brie), the woman he lost his virginity to in college many years before. The two bond, but make a pact not to sleep with each other again, so as to not destroy their new friendship.
What an interesting movie. Lainey’s sex addiction isn’t at all treated as comedy (though Sudeikis’ sort of is, which is a weird balance, but it somehow works). Early on, Lainey has a breakdown in a public bathroom that is not at all played for laughs –it’s actually quite heartbreaking. Sleeping With Other People could be described as a “raunchy comedy,” but this scene lets us know that what’s happening to Lainey is dead serious. It’s a bold choice, but without this tone, the movie doesn’t work.
Lainey has been sleeping with a married man (played by Adam Scott in the most buttoned-up, un-Adam Scott like performance that has ever existed) and that relationship has seriously destroyed her. My best guess is that Scott is usually so charming, even when he’s playing the asshole, that to play a monster like this needed something drastically different.
Headland calls Sleeping With Other People, “When Harry Met Sally for assholes.” This is perhaps one of the most accurate comparisons a director has ever made about his or her own film. There’s even an orgasm scene halfway through the movie, but instead of a public spectacle, Jake teaches Lainey how to properly masturbate – and, somehow this comes off as sweet, romantic and funny.
There’s a lot going on in the relationship between Jake and Lainey, and I in no way expected this movie to be this … complicated. There are actual repercussions in this movie, which is rare for a movie this “raunchy.” (I wish I knew a better word to use, so I will just use that word because you know what I mean when I use it.) Put it this way: When one character punches another character, it doesn’t end with a catharsis. It ends with some jail time and a lawsuit.
After National Lampoon’s Vacation, Chase never quite hit the stardom he had hoped for. He was certainly famous, but he never graduated into something more. Instead, he just kept playing the same guys (Spies Like Us, Three Amigos, Funny Farm, three more Vacation movies) until he was too old to do that anymore, so he stopped starring in movies.
There a moment in Sleeping With Other People where Sudeikis’ Jake shares his fear to Lainey about turning into the “creepy old dude.” That his charms will soon start to fade, and then he’ll just become gross. Sudeikis turns 40 this year and, no, he doesn’t have to worry about being the “creepy old guy” in real life, but the cinematic version of Sudeikis doesn’t have that many years left as the wise-cracking charmer. Soon, if he sticks with this model, he will be the “creepy old guy” on screen. Sleeping With Other People is the first time we see that there’s more to Sudeikis than we’ve seen before or knew possible. And maybe it’s time he did break that Chevy Chase mold.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.