As in her debut feature, Bachelorette, writer-director Leslye Headland again manages to find some edgily intriguing ways to refresh a somewhat familiar rom-com setup in Sleeping with Other People. With its New York-based central male-female pair confiding in each other about their love lives and basically attempting to maintain a platonic friendship, the film sounds like a modern-day variation on When Harry Met Sally… But unlike Harry and Sally in the Rob Reiner film, the central relationship begins with sex, as Jake (Jason Sudeikis) first encounters an angry, horny Lainey (Alison Brie) in college in 2002 and ends up being her first. The next time they encounter each other, however, is roughly 12 years later—at a meeting for sex addicts. As we get to know them better, we discover that it isn’t necessarily sex addiction that fuels their behavior, but a deeper series of fears and hang-ups. Refreshingly, though, the film doesn’t offer any pat psychologizing in order to try to explain their neuroses. It may all have something to do with that one fateful night in college during which they hooked up, but Headland doesn’t belabor the point, instead preferring to leave that possibility hovering in the background, hanging over their every fraught interaction as they attempt to carry on a friendship without succumbing to sexual desire.
Amanda Peet (#1–10 of 3)
David Duchovny is one of those actors where you can never really tell if he’s flagrantly bad or awesomely great—and his diabolical, Cheshire-cat act has been one of the great mysteries of celebrity acting for years now. From his Mulder days on The X-Files, where Duchovny’s flat, knowing line readings were deliriously inventive, to his Californication rascal of late, you just can’t figure the dude out. And something tells me that in that Ivy League-educated/Celebrity Jeopardy!-champ head of his, he knows how to play you like a violin.
So herein lies one of the most wizardly examples of celeb casting ever. Playing an office massacre’s sole survivor (named John Smith, natch) who tries to convince the world he has been touched by God while furtively eyeballing possible fame from the wreckage, Duchovny orchestrates Neil LaBute’s new play The Break of Noon like a virtuoso, simply in that you never can tell what is sincere and what is, as described in one of David Lynch’s most prized films, horsepucky. Trying to change his whoring, gambling ways, John is right in line with LaBute’s stage men: searching, intense, befuddled by women. But eschewing his 11th-hour twisteroos, the LaBute of recent years unleashes surprising challenges to himself, even nakedly addressing his own past criticism in one key scene when John appears on a talk show with a caustic, pointed hostess (Tracee Chimo, arch but fully committed) that results in the latter exclaiming, “Us women can be awfully touchy when it comes to gender.” But this self-reflexive nature hasn’t dulled the big boy one bit. Say what you will, the man writes killer two-person scenes (not to mention this production has two boffo monologues), and in this current climate of let’s-talk-about-our-feelings plays clogging our institutional theaters, his dramatic bravado is worthy of bravos.
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Aaron Sorkin’s return to hour-long network drama after leaving The West Wing in 2003, opens with a monologue about what’s wrong with the state of television—the industry and the art form. The monologue, as delivered by veteran actor Judd Hirsch, is beautifully written, perfectly acted, rivetingly shot and edited (climaxing in one of the better “cut to credits!” bits seen on the small screen) and almost totally false. In a way, it’s a perfect encapsulation of the show itself, which veers from feeling like one of TV’s best shows to one of its most mediocre, often in the same scene.
What’s frustrating about Studio 60 (10 p.m. Mondays, NBC) is that it’s just good enough to be called one of the season’s top pilots. The actors all bring their “A” games (particularly Wing alumnus Bradley Whitford and Matthew Perry, who have a nice, comfortable chemistry), and cporoducer-director Thomas Schlamme can still put over a walk-n-talk scene (one where the characters pace the hallways of their workplace while doling out exposition or clever bon mots) like no one else, even if it’s starting to feel a bit stale (since every show uses the technique now). Sorkin’s script accomplishes a pilot’s main goals, doling out exposition and setting up characters quickly and judiciously. Sorkin’s also not afraid to poke fun at himself, openly admitting that a major plot point is essentially the same one that opens Sidney Lumet’s Network. It’s easy to be won over by this show. It’s “smart,” in that way The West Wing was, making you feel like you’ve hung out with some interesting folk who are passionate about their jobs. The initial impression after finishing the pilot is “Wow. That was really something.” But as soon as you think about Studio 60, it starts to dissolve. For starters, Network is still watched today because Paddy Chayefsky’s script anticipated many of TV’s most problematic future developments, including the rise of the cable news personality (as opposed to the traditional anchor) and the advent of so-called reality TV. When Sorkin invokes Network via structural similarities and lines of dialogue, he invites unflattering comparison, for the simple reason that Studio 60 is far from prescient. If anything, the premiere makes one wonder if Aaron Sorkin simply stopped watching television after he left West Wing.