“Sleeping with Other People,” a romantic comedy touching on sex and love addiction is from writer/director Leslye Headland, known for her play-to-screenplay adaptation of “Bachelorette.” Apparently, this indie movie was produced by Adam McKay and Will Ferrell as no studio wanted to touch it. I’m not sure why.
The movie opens with protaganists Lainey (played by Alison Brie) and Jake (Jason Sudeikis) in a college dorm; by a twist of fate, the two have lost their virginity to each other. Fast forward a dozen years and they’ve run into one another again — at a meeting for sex addicts (though Lainey is really a love addict). She and Jake attempt to maintain a platonic friendship and while they do refrain from having sex — the pair creates a code word for times when either feels sexual tension — SPOILER ALERT: they do, of course, fall in love.
Brie’s portrayal of Lainey’s love addiction feels right-on. The obsession, the hysteria, the attraction to unavailable men, the use of “intriguing” as a way to deflect and numb bad feelings. As she sits in a 12-step meeting she can’t keep her eyes off her phone and even receives a text from her paramour during the meeting. I laughed in identification.
Jake’s “sex addiction,” on the other hand, isn’t as accurate. His problem, he tells Lainey, comes from a realization that he’s with the wrong girl and instead of breaking up with her, he sabotages the relationship by being unfaithful. Sex addiction is not a conscious choice to hurt somebody or get out of a dead-end relationship. He later tells his boss (who becomes his girlfriend) that his issues with fidelity originated because he was a late bloomer who waited for sex to be special. When he realized that it wouldn’t ever be, he chucked the idea of monogamy completely and sex has never been special since.
Well, that’s not sex addiction either. Sex addiction is a terrifying, compulsive addiction wherein you need contact and validation to fill a void and get a hit — exactly the way a junkie needs drugs. Jake does refer to Lainey as “crack,” which is more in line with a sex addict’s notion that other people are essentially “dope on two legs.” But we never see Jake suffer any loss or feel any pain as a result of his promiscuity. Neither of them ever do anything very degrading. We see, though, the emotional cost of Lainey’s obsession with a married doctor (she actually vomits when she meets his wife at an event), but Jake seems to just sail through his life, breaking hearts and manipulating women without a care in the world.
Jake refusal to sleep with Lainey is based on this statement: “You take a risk losing somebody when you sleep with them. And I’ve never slept with somebody I wouldn’t risk losing.” Although sex addicts know that sex screws up their relationships, the idea that he could restrain himself with no 12-step or other program, without working on himself — just because he valued her friendship — seems a little absurd. It’s also obvious Jake is not just a womanizer, but a “love avoidant” and he works through fears of emotional intimacy without the terror that really accompanies such a shift. Neither character does any real work, though; they just hang out and that’s how they both “recover” and learn to love. Um, ok.
Comedian Billy Eichner (of “Billy on the Street” fame) has a cameo as a sex addict sharing — graphically — from the podium at Lainey’s and Jake’s 12-step meeting. And although his rant is funny and obviously a page from his shock comedy, it’s completely unrealistic and devoid of any real shame or remorse. Sharing at that level of detail would be taboo at a Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous meeting, as it could be very triggering to others. To wit: Jake leaves the meeting admitting to “feeling horny.”
Don’t get me wrong; there are laugh-out-loud moments in “Sleeping With Other People” and some witty writing and decent, colorful performances. However, the movie ends with the myth that if a sex addict can just find the right person, they will be fixed. And my experience has been that sex and love addiction, like any addiction, is an inside job.