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Sleeping With Other People & The Escalating Mean-Streak of Indie Rom-Coms

Posted on the 25 June 2015 by Weminoredinfilm.com @WeMinoredInFilm

“We live in a cynical world. A cynical world. And we work in a business of tough competitors.”

Go ahead. Finish the line. Don’t you recognize it? It’s from Jerry Maguire. The next part is the famous, “I love you. You…complete me.” Lately, though, in a lot of the indie rom-coms I see the next line would probably be a hearty, “Fuck you!” or perhaps a delightfully meta, “Did you just quote Jerry Maguire?” We’re too cynical for “You complete me” and everyone seems to kind of know that they are characters in a movie.

Enter Sleeping With Other People, which Vulture jokingly summed up as starring Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie as “two garbage people who fall in love.” That’s a particular specialty of playwright-turned-writer-director Leslye Headland, whose Bridesmaids-esque comedy Bachelorette about a bachelorette party gone wrong was supposed to be the next big thing until people saw it at Sundance 2012 and realized how much they disliked the characters (played by Kirsten Dunst, Lizzy Caplan and Isla Fisher). However, now that the studios don’t make rom-coms anymore the genre has fallen to the indie-sphere where the rougher edges are not chopped off by studio notes, and genre conventions are mocked rather than upheld.   So, often times rather than be films about pleasant people looking for love they become films about complicated, sometimes downright mean people.

Lizzy Caplan has been in a couple, the aforementioned Bachelorette as well as Save the Date, in which her romantic turmoil upsets her increasingly bridezilla-esque sister (Alison Brie). Complicated characters should be a good thing, but sometimes when you just want a good comedy you might get tricked into watching something almost purely dramatic despite some slightly comedic moments, such as Jennifer Westfeldt’s Friends With Kids starring Adam Scott, Jon Hamm, Kristin Wiig, Maya Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd. And the trend has extended to TV where FX’s You’re the Worst delighted critics last year by giving us two seemingly horrible people who begrudgingly fall into a relationship despite kind of hating each other.

Of course, by their very nature as indie movies you are usually going to be in store for more complicated depictions of familiar stories, and that often times translates to a real mean streak, such as Melissa Rauch’s deeply dark black comedy The Bronze, about “A foul-mouthed former gymnastics bronze medalist who must fight for her local celebrity status when a young athlete’s star rises in town.” Of course, that’s not actually a rom-com, and there are those films which still have a surprisingly lightness to them, such as Jenny Slate’s The Obvious Child, a rom-com that just happens to center around an abortion.

Still, it is fascinating to me that we live in an era where Leslye Headland has gone ahead and made something she refers to as “When Harry Met Sally, but with assholes,” summing up Sleeping With Other People, about two sex addicts who gradually become a couple in every way other than physical. When it premiered at Sundance I read lots of positive reviews which still cautioned that these are kind of horrible people, the type who get high before going to a nephew/niece’s birthday party. Yet I just watched the trailer, and I really want to see this movie now. It looks like Headland might have learned from Bachelorette and delivered characters worth hanging out with despite their issues. Or maybe I’m just a total fanboy for Alison Brie because of Community.

What do you think?

Sleeping With Other People is due out September 11, 2015.

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