One might expect a book with such a broad scope to register as unfocused, diffuse—but to read Thomson is to know you’re in the hands of a skilled writer, one who thinks deeply and who can move between topics in a manner that, if not effortless, at least leaves one charmed enough not to notice the detours ... he has a knack for making us see our favorite performers in a new light while underscoring precisely what is so iconic or integral about their appeal ... In its blurring of personal experience, passionate movie-watching, and critical theory, Sleeping with Strangers raises several intriguing questions: did many Hollywood films of the Classical period throw a sidelong glance at the sanctity of marriage because these ostensibly heteronormative films were the work of so much gay talent? ... If you’re a film buff, or simply a reader who maintains a passing interest in Classic Hollywood, Sleeping with Strangers feels like being in great company; passionate and erudite...deeply necessary.
Whether the book works as a whole (I’m not sure it does) seems to me less important than the parts that sum it up, which in Thomson’s case contain more original insights, provocative asides and thought-inducing speculations than several volumes of a less talented writer’s efforts ... In the end, though, Sleeping With Strangers is larger than any of its hypotheses about 'the unease of straight manhood,' or its obvious points ('Porn is full of male hatred of women') — or, again, its sweeping statements, replete with slightly smarmy wordplay ... Thomson is set on linking our frenetic carnality on screen to our vexed carnality in real life, and in doing so he elucidates the cultural impact of film on the shadowy areas of our collective psyche — whether it be gender, racial politics or the male pursuit of power — with an unflinching, sardonic eye ... If it is true that he sometimes substitutes free association for deep thinking and throws out aperçus just to see if they’ll stick, it is also true that Sleeping With Strangers is dazzling in the effrontery of its opinions, even when they don’t quite hold up. Thomson, a stylist extraordinaire, has written an unaccountable and irresistible book.
Thomson is at his best when he’s mining these hidden veins of [desire], noticing a detail in a familiar film that helps you see the movie in a new way ... It’s the rare straight man well past middle age who tries to radically change how he thinks about a subject so fundamental. There’s a nobility in that quest, even when, still a novice at queer theory, Thomson sometimes fumbles the lingo, appearing to conflate the trans experience, bisexuality, and even vaguely kinky straight behavior under the generously spreading umbrella of 'gay' ... When he writes about the onscreen representation of female sexuality, Thomson seems less at ease and, tellingly, has less to say ... Still, many of his insights about the movies themselves shine ... But when it comes to the subject of offscreen, three-dimensional women and their exploitation by the Hollywood machine, Thomson’s evident good faith can’t save him from moments of tone-deafness painful enough to stir qualms ... Thomson’s struggle to fully grasp the first principle of the #MeToo movement—that women’s accounts of their experiences deserve, at long last, not to be drowned out by men’s voices—goes from awkward to enraging in a chapter near the end ... What this seductive yet at times repellent book never fully grapples with is the privilege required to grant yourself that innocence.