Jason Sudeikis and Leslye Headland on the Death of Rom-Coms and How 'Sleeping With Other People' Is Different
By John Boone
Photo: IFC Films
Sleeping With Other People -- which stars Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie as opposite-sex best friends who end up falling in love, despite their best efforts not to -- won’t reinvent the rom-com. But it might revive it.
Director Leslye Headland credits classics such as When Harry Met Sally and various early works of Woody Allen -- romantic comedies from the golden age of romantic comedies -- as inspiration for her latest film. The fact that Hollywood isn’t jumping to make those types of films anymore, Headland says, is first and foremost about money.
"They stopped making mid-level budget movies, which are usually romantic comedies," she explains to ET, noting studios will always opt for bigger budget films with bigger box offices over respectably priced projects that make that money back. "I don’t know if I've ever bought a ticket in advance to a comedy. I think the measuring stick is wrong. I think that's why they had this idea that rom-coms are failing."
Headland continued, "The average movie-goer goes to the movies twice a year. If they're more indie focused, they might go like five to check out auteurs...But if you think about it, those two times, one of them is an Avengers movies, so that's gone."
Sudeikis chimed in, "Yep, someone in a cape or a mask. Absolutely."
Headleand: "And whatever wins Best Picture is probably the second one."
Sudeikis: "Or that they're being told is going to...The biz buzz."
Headland: "Yeah, all those people that went to see Birdman. I mean, no offense, but is that a movie that anyone will remember in five years?"
Sudeikis: "I mean...Michael Keaton, probably, will certainly remember it."
That's how the entire conversation went when we sat down with the director and star at The London Hotel in West Hollywood, with Headland, in a zebra-print dress, and Sudeikis, wearing a navy henley and bright purple sneakers, talking over each other in agreement and finishing each other's sentences.
"They're certainly out of vogue," Sudeikis transitioned the conversation, and just as quickly, Headland picked up his thread. "They're not very cool. That's the other thing, they're not very cool," she added. "Because female-centric movies aren't very cool."
Sudeikis: "We have been suffering an anxiety of influence, from that great era when Nora Ephron was running stuff, or those amazing movies like Four Weddings and a Funeral or Knotting Hill. They nailed it so well and made it look so effortless that we just think, 'All we got to do is just take elements of that and replicate that.' And then it becomes a copy of a copy of a copy and it feels less original, less special."
Headland: "And it doesn’t feel like it’s reflecting anybody's experience."
Sudeikis: "It's reflecting show business's version of reality."
Headland: "This is how genders speak to each other."
Sudeikis: "Right, because this is what the movies I've watched in the past 10 years sounded like."
Headand: "They’re just throwing all of it into a bowl and then pulling it out, like, 'Architect meets--'"
Sudeikis: "She owns a flower shop...We'll put them back to back [on a poster], he'll raise his eyebrow, she'll cross her arms. Let's sell it!"
Sleeping With Other People, Headland's follow-up to her 2012 Sundance hit, Bachelorette, is something different. Sudeikis's character, Jake, is a p***y hound who finds it easier to get caught cheating on a girlfriend than break up with her. Brie's Lainey can’t stop sleeping with her ex, who is married with a baby on the way. They meet un-cute at a sex addict's meeting, over a decade after losing their virginity to one another and decide to be just friend. We all know how that tends to work out.
Still, Headland proclaims it a proud member of the rom-com genre. "I love that that genre does that, sort of unabashedly celebrates love," she says. "At least my generation, there's this idea that you're going to have sex with a guy, he’s going to magically fall in love with your golden vagina, and then it's going to be like the end of The Bachelor...I don't think it actually works like that."
So she made a rom-com her own way. Her characters start from, as she calls it, a place of "sexual dysfunction." Jake and Lainey are, again, in her words, "assholes." They have frank talks about the sex they're having and the sex they want to have. It's a rom-com for today, one that embraces as many tropes as it subverts, while keeping an eye on being honest to how men and women fall in and out of love in 2015.
"It’s two of the most subjective things in the world, love and comedy and then, 'Here's our version of it scored to the dulcet tones of Harry Connick Jr.' We’re sort of over that. We’re kind of cynical to love and connection," Sudeikis notes.
Sudeikis: "A romantic comedy has to provide familiarity and surprise. It has to be something that you can go on a journey with, usually based on your own gender specific. I don't think this movie does that. I empathize as much with Alison's character as I do with the character I play."
Headland: "There isn’t a lot of celebration of the male-female connection [anymore], that we have both of it in all of us. More and more, I think, it's like it's a female centric film, or it’s a male centric film."
Sudeikis: "Which is odd, because remember, we spent, at least for me, the '80s and '90s was all about the new man was more sensitive and everything, and now we're sons-of-guns again."
Headland: "And it’s like the idea that I can only relate to female characters, because I'm a female. Or I should only be hired for female-centric things because I'm a female director. It got so, what’s the worth? Segregated and I'm not sure when that happened. Partially, it's probably because there aren't a lot of films like the romantic comedy, that encompass both of them. The romantic comedy has always been about the male-female voice. It's just about the male and female speaking to each other and existing together."
Sudeikis: "Intellectual intercourse, as Alanis would say."
Headland: "Did she say that?"
Sudeikis: "Yeah! She said it on Jagged Little Pill. I forget which song."
Plus, we asked Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie who would walk down the aisle first. Here’s what they had to say: