Romance and raunch might seem mutually exclusive.
But in her second feature film, “Sleeping With Other People” (which opened Friday) writer/director Leslye Headland makes a case for R&R being the new normal.
Her raucous, sexy and ultimately romantic comedy stars Kansas City’s Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie as thirtysomething singles who, a decade after losing their virginity to each other in college, meet again and decide to be platonic best friends.
He’s a charming womanizer. She’s obsessed with an OB-GYN who uses her for quickie sex before returning to his wife.
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Jake and Lainey can be absolutely open with each other about their sex lives, their inner fears, their frustrations.
Headland, 34, has described her film as “ ‘When Harry Met Sally’ with ***holes.”
“Jake and Lainey could be insufferable,” Headland said. “My idea was to start out with people you wouldn’t necessarily have coffee with and see if you can get the audience to understand why they are the way they are. To really accept and empathize with ‘bad people.’
“One of the biggest problems with people finding intimacy today is that it’s so easy to hide who you are. Romance is waning because we’re putting the cart before the horse. We know each other physically way sooner than we know each other emotionally.
“Lainey and Jake are so used to not showing their sex partners who they are. They’re afraid that if they do they will be shamed or shunned or dumped. Ironically, they accidentally achieve an intimacy not even a lot of married couples have. They will tell each other all the awful things they’ve done and at some point it’s like ‘Oh my God … you know everything about me, and you’re still not running away!’ ”
“Sleeping” will probably be remembered as the film in which Sudeikis left behind all vestiges of “Saturday Night Live” sketch comedy and created a fully inhabited, believable character.
“I wrote it for him,” said Headland, who knew Sudeikis through her connections with Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, producers of the film. “I knew what his strengths were. And I really knew him as a person, not just as a comedian or actor. I got to the paradox of him, this sweet, charming guy from Kansas City who also happens to be too smart for his own good.
“Over the years every time we ran into each other he remembered my name and knew about my work. When I had the idea for this movie I asked if he would be willing to do a rom-com with some naughty bits but a lot of heart … and it was like we had a mind meld.
“We are so sympathetic artistically, emotionally, creatively, spiritually. We have this weird soulmate thing that was very helpful because at heart the film’s about a man and a woman trying to maintain a platonic connection.”
Brie, Headland said, makes the audience love her character despite Lainey’s pathetic devotion to a man who misuses her.
“It’s hard not to love Alison. I knew her from ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Community,’ but I didn’t immediately think of her for this part. She usually plays wide-eyed innocents,” Headland said. “So I was blown away by the depth she brings to this role, the vulnerability and comedy and darker edges.”
Headland’s first job out of college was as a personal assistant to Harvey Weinstein, the wildly successful but mercurial and bombastic film producer.
“My suggestion to someone starting out in the biz is to become a personal assistant. See how the sausages are made,” Headland said. “Working for Harvey is like getting the red badge of courage … nothing is scary after that. It’s like the black ops of filmmaking.
“I don’t think I had any idea of who I was until I worked for him. Dealing with someone as brusque as Harvey you can’t lie. You have to be honest with yourself about why you’re in this business. How much can you put up with to realize your dreams?”
Opening this week
“Deathgasm”: A New Zealand horror comedy in which heavy metal fans awaken a demonic force. At the Screenland Armour.
“The Final Girls”: Another horror comedy. Teens attending a marathon screening of old killer-in-a-summer-camp films find themselves sucked into their own life-or-death situation. At the Screenland Armour.
Read more of Robert W. Butler’s features and reviews at butlerscinemascene.com.