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.
Thomson’s book is unlikely to strike the death blow to male supremacy. To the contrary, Sleeping With Strangers is steeped in the sexism of Hollywood. The author rarely considers women’s views, and the index offers this sad little entry: 'women’s films, 116, 120' ... The oddest thing about Sleeping With Strangers is that Thomson sees himself as an enlightened critic of male sexual behavior. His book is littered simultaneously with feminist truisms and overt sexism ... Sleeping With Strangers is an odd, confused cultural artifact. It presumes to explore how our desires are fired as we watch movies in the dark. But it seems rather to be a product of a dim awareness that certain behaviors and attitudes are no longer acceptable, along with an inability to imagine a world without them.