Leslye Headland on Sleeping With Other People and the State of the Rom-Com

"I specialize in Aaron Sorkin jokes. They never fail at parties," says filmmaker Leslye Headland over the phone while discussing her pop culture jokes in Sleeping With Other People. After hearing the joke, audiences either laugh-out-loud or wonder, "'Wait, Aaron Sorkin's a crack addict?' Everyone's on his Wikipedia [after that and] they're so shocked about what's going on. I love it."

Headland's latest rom-com, Sleeping With Other People, is not only about the laughs, but there's some heart in it too. 

Her leading lady, Lainey (Alison Brie), is inspired by her own life experiences and the film chronicles the platonic relationship she attempts to maintain with her best male friend Jake (Jason Sudeikis). As such, Lainey is a well-developed character with real emotions, both positive and negative, and just as importantly, a sex drive that she's proud of. 

"I'd love to be like, 'I'm an amazing writer!' but I think a lot of it just comes from having that experience; having sex with someone I don't really know, falling in love with them, and all the shame and shittiness that came with it," she explains. "And I was interested in that because I just haven't seen a woman on screen with all these sort of different things without it sort of dictating the genre of the film.

"If she's obsessed with someone, it needs to be a thriller. If she's fucking this guy, it needs to be a drama. So I wanted to create a female character that can sort of defy the genre — that's the intention."

But it doesn't solely come from the writing. For Headland, it was important to have a strong actor to portray Lainey; one who can deliver both laughs and gravitas. The filmmaker comments on how Brie "went above and beyond" in the role, bringing depth to the character. "She wasn't treating her like she was a bitch, but treating her like she was just a real person."

Commenting on the way her two characters meet, Headland says, "They both see each other and run into each other, just like in When Harry Met Sally. 'Someone is staring at you in Personal Growth' is what Carrie Fisher says. So my update in 2015 is they're at a twelve-step [sex addicts] meeting.

"The reason I bring this up is because I think it's interesting that their issue wasn't that they were unlikeable characters. Their issue was: if they meet at a sex addiction meeting, how come the rest of the movie isn't about them being sex addicts? And I was like, if that's true, then you're saying that someone's dysfunction - someone's trauma or darker parts - defines their story, and I don't think that's true, both for my protagonists as well as for human beings."

Romantic comedies are a huge part of how society views love and relationships both romantic and platonic in this day and age. Sadly, the genre has been getting dismissed quite a lot lately.

"I think part of the hatred for the genre that's been coming up in the past ten years has to do with an overall resistance to 'female-centric' movies," Headland explains. "That's not the way it was in the '70s and '80s though. If I pitched Tootsie right now, like if I went into a studio and pitched it, they would consider it a female-centric movie. A Woman Under the Influence: female-centric movie. Network: female-centric movie. Even though they all have male characters because women are at the forefront, they're considered to be female-centric."

"When was the last time you saw a Juno?" she adds, rightfully frustrated at a system that seems determined to work against her and many others. "Something that was made for around five million dollars and made over a hundred and fifty million dollars. That just doesn't happen anymore and that was eight years - almost a decade - ago and you just don't really see that kind of thing anymore. It's changing and it's a bit weird and odd to be working in film right now."

This kind of inequality in the industry is an undeniable issue at this point, with multiple filmmakers taking to the web to often expose just how bad things really are more often than ever now. As we discuss whether or not Sleeping With Other People would have been released by a major studio alongside something like My Best Friend's Wedding in the '90s, Headland ends the conversation with refreshing candor: "I think people of color and women keep getting sidelined because anything that doesn't fall into, y'know, a certain box or genre becomes considered 'alternative'... A 'female-centric' movie is a genre now instead of just a movie that happens to have females in it or address female things. It's very odd, but I think that Sleeping With Other People just fits in so many places."

Sleeping With Other People opens in Miami on Friday, October 2, at O Cinema Wynwood, AMC Sunset Place 24, Regal Southland Mall, and Regal South Beach.
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Juan Antonio Barquin is a Miami-based writer who programs the queer film series Flaming Classics and serves as co-editor of Dim the House Lights. Barquin aspires to be Bridget Jones.