I was leaning over a tall table after a short but generous brewery tour. The novelty of ordering a ‘Ghost King’ was slowly wearing off. I was feeling less and less like a character in fantasy novel. So I asked my companions if they thought Alison Brie (Community, Mad Men, Save the Date) would ever be a star.
It wasn’t a random question. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a couple days after the first trailer for Sleeping with Other People, a new rom-com staring Jason Sudeikis and Brie. Some comps were thrown out like Melisa McCarthy, which (no offense) doesn’t really work. One fella expressed some disbelief that she’ll ever be a star. Maybe she’s just a television star, not quite the ever dependable and versatile (yellow) American cheese but she’s not quite French brie. That’s the best Alison Brie-cheese metaphor you’ll read today. One guy offered up how he once saw her on a plane with Dave Franco and couldn’t stop looking at her. I threw out the comp of Rose Bynre, which people liked. If I had to say a best case scenario, I think Brie could be some mix of Byrne and Reese Witherspoon–Byrne’s rye comedic timing and Witherspoon’s sincerity. She’s played the sassy second fiddle in other rom-coms (The Five Year Engagement, Save the Date) and integral part in cult sitcom Community and now, Annie has arrived! Now onto Sleeping with Other People.
Let’s go through a quick checklist. New York setting? Check. Shirts that explicitly say “New York” just to make sure it’s clear? Check. Adam Brody (in fine Seth Cohen form (and who hasn’t aged at all and I could write about 2,000 words about Brody (the third best part of Mr. and Mrs. Smith) but the general reader can only stomach so much.)))? Check. Adam Scott with a mustache? Check mate.
Sleeping with Other People supposedly follows the affairs of womanizer with a heart of gold Jake (Jason Sudeikis) and serial cheater Lainey (Alison Brie.) It’s written and directed by Leslye Headland (Bacholorette). I’m not going any further with this synopsis because I just handed you the trailer on a WordPress platter. And it’s a great trailer. I’m in on Sleeping with Other People. I think it could save the rom-com. I said that once about That Awkward Moment, and I don’t think I’ve fundamentally misjudged a movie that bad since Clash of the Titans.
If Brie lands a star making performance in Sleeping with Other People, I think it can be a huge movie (relative to its genre and release). Every move/look she makes in the trailer hits all the right notes for the female lead in a rom-com. You have to be desirable to men but not overtly threatening to women–like Julia Roberts or Meg Ryan.And vice versa for the male lead. The looks that Brie’s Lainey gives Sudeikis’s Jake of affronted flattery that says slow down but don’t stop (in a purely flirtatious way, don’t get excited) are money. And Sudeikis has been playing these fast talking, unemotional guys for years (Horrible Bosses, We’re the Millers). He’s a combination of The Wedding Crashers duo (Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn). He’s got Vaughn’s fast talking bravado without the burning man underneath, and he’s got Wilson’s earthy charm without the physical ticks and crooked nose.
And I think the token rom-com friends of Lainey and Jake should provide plenty of laughs–OITNB‘s Natasha Lyonne and Jason Mantzoukas of Rafi (The League) fame. I think they’re playing it straight, but with a movie that is basically about two dysfunctional, awful people, you need people to play it straight.
Back to the genre question though, can it save the rom-com?
There’s a few problems with the question. First of all, no it probably won’t. Any rom-com distributed by IFC isn’t gonna significantly alter the fate of the screwball (whatever you want to call it) genre. The more vital point is that rom-coms don’t really need saving. They’ve just jumped ship from movies to television.
But for kicks, let’s do a quick rom-com rundown, starting with Apatow. For the mid to late 2000s, Judd Apatow was the showrunner (from 40 Year Old Virgin through Forgetting Sarah Marshall to Funny People). He either directed or produced those movies about boy-men, shenanigans, and cool girls. That run essentially ended with Funny People. Rom-coms moved on to find some edgier voices. What are the kids up to? What is this “friends with benefits” thing. Let’s make a movie about it, or two. So we got aptly titled Friends with Benefits and No Strings Attached. Friends with Benefits was the funnier movie. That was the summer we actually believed Justin Timberlake was Frank Sinatra. No Strings Attached wasn’t as funny (and suffered from Ashton Kutcher) but it was a good story, one that actually dealt with characters. Writer Liz Meriwether leveraged her writing credit into New Girl.
The second half of the second season of New Girl was the best rom-com of 2012. The best rom-com this summer is (from UK’s Channel Four) Catastrophe with Twitter’s Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan. But that could all change, if Apatow makes a comeback with Trainwreck on the shoulders of Amy Schumer’s rising relevancy, though Schumer hasn’t been doing herself any favors with the cloud of racial insensitivity. Hopefully, she figures out that “trust me, I’m not a racist” or “it’s not not my fault people laugh” has never been the best defense.
But for the finale, let’s take a three-pronged look at the trailer’s three central jokes.
1. Who’s better than my brother?
Maybe you could call the first interaction with Jake and his old gal a “joke.” I just chock it up to Sudeikis bein’ Sudeikis. So, our first joke is a random line from Adam Brody. We don’t know his brother. We don’t know Brody’s character. But the line (and Brie’s reaction) is both equally distant from our understanding of the actual situation and intimate in the way that we’re all victims of sibling inferiority complexes. It’s a perfect trailer joke, because it doesn’t require any exposition
Are you guys high? Yeah, we’re actually rolling? That’s how Henry was conceived.
The scene itself will probably be pretty funny–adults high at a kids party. Sure, I’m in. But here, they telling instead of showing. Adults high at a kids party is a visual joke, not a verbal one. You need to see the adults and kids in question. Also, I have no idea nor do I care who “Henry” is. “Brother” worked because it was general yet inclusive.
Naomi still has her anal virginity. That’s not true. A lot of guys have been up there just not you.
I’m gonna throw a retro-active 18+ sensor on this post. This joke works on two fronts. They draw you in with “virginity.” Everyone’s ears perk up virginity. And the punchline is good. Andrea Savage (Naomi) barks it out right after the shot. I appreciate the realism. But the real punchline is Jason Mantzukous face in the seconds after his wife drops this particular bomb. He tries to laugh it off, glances towards her direction. His throat is still burning from the shot, and his heart is burning because of the cutting revelation. And he eyes fall to the floor. And for some reason, I found his shameful humiliation a fitting end.