A good-natured womanizer and a serial cheater form a platonic relationship that helps reform them in ways, while a mutual attraction sets in.
The year is 2002, and Lainey (Alison Brie) - don’t call her Elaine – is an 18 year-old hammering on a dorm room door trying to get the man inside to have sex with her. Fellow student Jake (Jason Sudeikis) is not that man, but he’s willing to let her hide out in his room when she’s about to get thrown out. They get to talking about sex, it turns out neither of them have first hand experience, and one magical night leads to… nothing at all, as they don’t see each other for the next 12 years.
Now Jake is a happy and financially successful womaniser, while Lainey is sabotaging any chance she has at a real relationship by clinging to the man (Adam Scott) she was trying to sleep with 12 years ago. When Jake and Lainey meet by chance at a sex addicts meeting, that old spark is still there, but with their respective pasts, they decide to keep their friendship platonic. They may have a safe word (“mousetrap”) for when things get too sexy, but what happens when they get too close emotionally?
The appeal of this film is obvious: Sudeikis and Brie are both extremely funny and easy on the eye, so having them talk about sex for 100 minutes is bound to be a good time. And individual scenes are often great, whether they’re very funny or surprisingly sad (Brie gets most of the sad scenes, where her huge eyes are deployed to lethal effect); the problem overall is that the leads often seem to be in completely different movies.
"It’s hard to know how to react"
Jake gets the more familiar story. He’s a charming, good-natured, yet immature ladies' man, who meets a woman who somehow resists his advances and by having a non-physical relationship with her, he grows up and realises there’s more to love than just sex. Lainey’s tale is a darker one. Her personal development has been stifled by her ongoing attraction to an emotionally distant man, and when he moves on, she’s forced to lean hard on her best friend to try and put her shattered life back together.
They’re both decent enough plots - though giving her the joyless sex life seems a bit cruel: why is it that he’s at the sex addicts meeting for the hell of it while she’s there because she’s hit rock bottom? But it’s the difference in tone between their two stories that damages the film. The strong chemistry between Brie and Sudeikis makes this feel more cohesive than it actually is, but without a consistent tone underlying the jokes, it’s hard to know how to react. Is a scene where Jake teaches Lainey how to masturbate using a green tea bottle fun, or just a little weird? Is the duo turning up at a kid’s birthday party on ecstasy funny, or just a little sad? A more sure-footed film could make those scenes be both things at once; without a unified tone, too often they don’t work either way.