Movies about friendships being tested by new romantic interests are nothing new, but Life Partners just about manages not to let that familiarity grate. Credit writer-director Susanna Fogel and her co-writer Joni Lefkowitz, who punch up a rather commonplace premise with honest scripting and a warm sense of humor. Their unidealized depiction of the relationship between long-time friends Sasha (Leighton Meester) and Paige (Gillian Jacobs), is interesting to watch, and that realism also helps Life Partners to navigate some trickier, though no less conventional, narrative territory in its latter half.
In terms of plot, what’s on offer is undeniably standard. Sasha and Paige are close friends of the nail-painting, bed-sharing variety, who have their relationship altered and in some ways threatened by Paige’s blossoming romance with Tim (Adam Brody), a badly dressed but incessantly charming guy who quickly wins Paige over. As much as they have in common, Sasha and Paige are on very different wavelengths, both romantically and professionally. Sasha is gay, and her unexciting career as a secretary only serves to remind her how little she’s accomplished as a musician, where her real passion lies. Meanwhile, Paige is straight, and her successful work as an environmental lawyer has allowed her to turn an eye toward the future, with creating a family in mind. So, an inevitable split occurs, with one friend mulling marriage and the other still stuck in the free-spirited mayhem of her late twenties. Surprise, surprise, I know.
It would be easy to rag on Life Partners for simply making something recognizable out of excessively standard parts, but the truth is that Fogel and Lefkowitz are intentionally gunning for something more universal than individual. The pair have a great handle on the emotional nuances of a long-standing friendship, and illuminating that central bond’s innermost workings is more their goal than anything else. Consequently, Life Partners‘ most affecting scenes are those in which Sasha and Paige sit side by side and ruminate, both as friends at a crossroads and as adults pushing 29 who still aren’t sure what they want to be when they grow up. There’s a palpable undercurrent of trepidation running through the film on those scenes, though Sasha’s wry sense of humor usually curtails any real heaviness.
The natural chemistry between Meester and Jacobs does much to establish a light and low-key tone. Immediately, the depth of love present in Sasha and Paige’s friendship can be felt on screen (a laudable accomplishment in of itself for a film such as this). Both actresses take care to build their generic characters into complex, three-dimensional individuals who aren’t entirely sympathetic. This is especially true of Jacobs, who elegantly elucidates Paige’s selfishness. The key to the film is that, even when neither lead is entirely likable, both remain deeply relatable.
One might say the same of Life Partners as a whole. Eventually, the film’s adherence to formula works to its detriment, sapping the story of most of its intrigue. The requisite fight between Sasha and Paige unfolds predictably, as does another conflict between Paige and Tim. Moreover, supporting characters played by the likes of Mark Feuerstein, Gabourey Sidibe, Beth Dover and Greer Grammer all get short shrift, which is a shame given how enjoyable all the actors are to watch in their brief stop-overs. Sidibe, especially, brings a tough-love sincerity to her friend character Jen that Life Partners could have benefitted from more of.
Despite not making the most of talented thesps like Sidibe, though, Fogel is unwavering in her ability to maintain Life Partners‘ fidelity to real life, and that clarity of purpose pushes the film forward. The director’s grip on the more technical aspects of the production is also impressive. Brian Burgoyne’s sun-stained lensing complements the free-wheeling tone, and Eric D. Johnson’s score also imparts a relaxed SoCal vibe. Meanwhile, the loose nature of Kiran Pallegadda’s editing further establishes a visual serenity. All in all, Life Partners displays a pleasing breeziness in line with its easygoing narrative.
If you’ve ever been left behind by a friend whose life seems to be coming together just as yours is falling apart, you’ll find some truth in Life Partners. It’s not the most innovative movie about female friendship out there, but the smart writing and great central performances just about make up for the fact that you’ve probably seen its story before, and done better, elsewhere.