A modern-day Harry and Sally spin around each other, in very close orbit, in “Sleeping With Other People.”
Played by Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie, they’re New Yorkers who take their tortured sweet time accepting the truth that they belong together. It’s a standard rom-com contrivance, stretched past the breaking point by writer-director Leslye Headland’s resolve to inject the genre with a sex-forward edginess.
Headland (“Bachelorette”) writes dialogue that alternates between sitcom zingers and plot mechanics posing as insights. Though the leads lend charm and comic timing to the unpersuasive material, it would take a ground-up rewrite to make the fate of their characters matter.
A dormitory meet-cute sets the credulity-defying tone. For starters, there’s Sudeikis’ boy-band bangs. The encounter is a virginity-vanquishing one for his Jake and Brie’s Lainey, and it inexplicably sends them on their separate ways until they meet cute again, 12 years later.
By this point they’re serial cheaters, determined not to do unto each other as they’ve done unto everyone else they’ve dated. Their self-imposed stint as besties, albeit the sort who devise a safe word to defuse sexual tension, is as unconvincing as the movie’s quirky posturing, all while in desperate pursuit of a wholly conventional — and predictable — outcome.
Along the way we get mildly diverting comic set pieces: Lainey is adorable on Ecstasy; Jake delivers an exuberant lesson in masturbation. Although Natasha Lyonne is utterly wasted, other members of the supporting cast breathe what life they can into the yakfest. A briefly seen Adam Brody is nimbly droll, and Amanda Peet suggests a more grounded, compelling story. In the thinly conceived role of the man whom Lainey loves too much, Adam Scott exerts a dark tug beneath the cartoonishness.
Brie and Sudeikis play smoothly off each other without quite generating chemistry beyond one especially tender moment. It’s a rare glimpse of emotion in a comedy contraption whose gears grind endlessly but never engage.
‘Sleeping With Other People’
MPAA rating: R for strong sexual content, language including sexual references, drug use
Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes
Playing: In limited release