Indie features about the growing pains and pangs of twentysomethings are a dime a dozen in the film world – good luck hitting a film festival without being inundated with such fare – so when a film rises above the fray, it’s both somewhat remarkable and deeply welcome. Susanna Fogel’s Life Partners is, fortunately enough, one of the rare features about approaching thirty that hits the right levels of humor, heart, and honestly, all while being adorably entertaining and charmingly relatable.
The film focues on the relationship between BFFs (and, yes, acronyms apply here) Paige (Gillian Jacobs) and Sasha (Leighton Meester), whose codependent relationship has apparently worked for so long that it’s kept both of them from realizing that it might be holding them back from other things (and other people). The dynamic duo does everything together – march in the local gay pride parade, hang out with their pals, hike, watch America’s Next Top Model, drink pink wine– and it doesn’t appear that there is room for anyone else in their lives. Let’s put it this way – when Sasha calls Paige, the caller ID reads “Husband,” and when Paige calls Sasha, her phone tells her that her “Wife” is ringing.
And, hey, about that gay pride thing – shiftless Sasha is a lesbian, while the more straight-shooting Paige is heterosexual – but that never becomes “the thing” about the film. Despite the girls’ different sexualities, the film is refreshingly unoccupied with making itself a project about different sexualities, and neither Paige nor Sasha’s preferences matter one bit in the grand scheme of things (hey, just like in real life!). Life Partners satisfyingly riffs on how hard it is for anyone to have a “normal” experience in the hellscape of mid-twenties dating, no matter what sex they are pursuing. That’s undoubtedly due to the veracity of the feature, as the film was penned by Fogel and her own best pal Jodi Lefkowitz, and is based on their own life experiences being “life partners” with different sexual interests.
When Paige and Sasha decide to try their hand at Internet dating, the results are wildly and weirdly different. Paige picks up Tim (Adam Brody), a slightly geeky doctor with a good heart. Paige is initially unsure of Tim – a nice guy, but one who is kitted out with the little quirks that girls like to tear apart, from a deep love for message tees to a predilcation for quoting The Big Lebowski ad nauseum – but the pair possess a real spark and soon start dating on the regular. Meanwhile, Sasha’s love life, which has apparently always been kind of a disaster zone, doesn’t see any kind of uptick from her foray into e-dating. (Kate McKinnon pops up as Sasha’s first – and highly deranged – Internet date, and as hilarious as her appearance is, it’s also telling of how Sasha picks ladies and how bad she is at sussing out what’s good for her.)
With Paige preoccupied, Sasha’s entire life begins to crumble – as a struggling singer/songwriter, her professional life is in just as much disarray as her personal life – and it sure seems like the “loss” of Paige is a big factor. But is it really? Although Paige is presented as the more together of the duo, Fogel and Lefkowitz make no bones about her own issues and quirks, and even as her life starts to seemingly shape up, trouble lingers and presses from all sides. Sasha is the more traditional screw-up, but that doesn’t mean that Fogel and Lefkowitz turn her into a caricature – instead, both Paige and Sasha feel fully realized and instantly relatable. Meester, in particular, is very good as Sasha, a role that could quite easily be flat and hard to care about – instead, Sasha’s failures and issues make her seem compelling and real, not silly and immature.
Life Partners travels some very familiar ground, but the strength of its writing, the honesty of its plot, and the charm of its leading ladies means that it’s a real cut above the rest of its genre brethren. It’s just a very sweet, very funny, very real film that should strike a chord with anyone who has ever struggled with growing up alongside the people they love most – no matter how hard it may be.
The Upside: Meester and Jacobs are extremely charming together, Meester is particularly good, the film feels both very real and very entertaining, its intimate subject matter is accessible and sweet, instantly relatable.
The Downside: The film’s narrative trajectory is occasionally uneven, and its second act feels unfocused and sometimes limp.
On the Side: Lefkowitz and Fogel adapted the film from their play of the same name, which was in turn based on their own friendship. The play starred Amanda Walsh and Shannon Woodward.