Romantic comedies are as egregiously fantastical as movies about genetically engineered dinosaurs, but when the escapism is infused with the kind of bittersweet pain that occurs as a result of love transforming rational people into the sort of dopamine-addicted basket-cases who either bury their feelings or express them too vehemently, they can still have the power to connect. Sleeping With Other People (4Stars)nails that kind of mania, particularly the way relationships frequently force people to behave like high-functioning addicts, perpetually on the brink of careening out of control when exposed to the right (or the wrong) person.
Jason Sudeikis and Alison Brie star as Jake and Lainey, former college friends-with-benefits (they slept together once) who reconnect years later and make a deal to deny their crazy chemistry in order to become confidants for each other in their pursuit of more workable relationships. For glib womanizer Jake that means trying to get over his compulsive determination to protect himself against future heartache by sabotaging things before they have a chance to develop into anything meaningful; for Jainey that means trying to get over her obsession with Matthew (Adam Scott), an about-to-be-married doctor with whom she’s been having an on/off affair since before she even met Jake.
As with writer/director Leslye Headland’s cult debut Bachelorette, the ensuing film is a spiky, funny, somewhat raucous affair that embraces as many rom-com conventions as it subverts. But even as it works towards its crowd-pleasing finale, it’s good at playing the reality of its protagonists’ romantic predicaments, especially the potentially damaging ripple effect that denying your true feelings can have on your own life and the lives of those with whom you choose to share it.
Putting more of a lo-fi, semi-autobiographical spin on similar themes, Meet Me in Montenegro (3Stars)also revolves around a romance reignited years after being brought to an abortive end. Basing the story loosely on the shape of their own relationship, co-directors Alex Holdridge and Linnea Saasen star as Anderson and Lina, the former a down-on-his luck indie filmmaker whose last ditch attempt to get his much-delayed Hollywood debut going results in him flying to Berlin for a meeting and running into Lina, the woman who ditched him years earlier with no explanation.
Built around characters all too aware of the tropes and clichés of romantic movies, the film uses Anderson’s occupation as an excuse for the sort of self-referential narration that can grate as much elate (a plot point in which Anderson walks away from a meeting with Amy Adams stretches credulity a bit as well). But as Holdridge did with his wondrous debut In Search of A Midnight Kiss, he and Saasen imbue the film with revelations that cast their characters’ relationship in a more complicated light and there’s something appealing too about building a film around characters in their mid-to-late-30s reconnecting with their own youthful idealism, despite – or perhaps because of – being wiser about the way the world works.
Sleeping With Other People, Saturday, Cineworld; Meet Me in Montenegro, Cineworld, Friday and Saturday.
• Edinburgh International Film Festival reviews