Monday, December 1, 2014

Gal Pals for Life: "Life Partners" freshens up old beats with honesty and humor

Life Partners (2014)
93 min., rated R.

Susanna Fogel (TV's "Chasing Life") makes her feature debut with "Life Partners," an affable indie relationship dramedy about two girlfriends—one gay, one straight—and how they navigate the single dating life. While writer-director Fogel and co-writer Joni Lefkowitz don't say anything too fresh here, besides incorporating both sides of sexual orientation, the film is often perceptive and even sharply funny about co-dependent relationships and how they are tested when one romantic door opens for one party and not the other. Attached at the hip, aimless Sasha (Leighton Meester) and control-freaky Paige (Gillian Jacobs) are still good friends at 29 years old. Though they both have dated around, the only lasting relationship they have had is with each other. Sasha works as a bored receptionist while she tries concentrating on being a musician, and the type-A Paige thinks she has it all together as an environmental lawyer. Once Paige meets charming but slackly dressed dermatologist Tim (Adam Brody), Sasha starts to feel slighted, missing her best-friend sleepovers, and a schism wedges in between their friendship. 

Structurally schematic and predictable, with beats hitting right on schedule, "Life Partners" is still driven by its characters rather than plot. It sets up an interesting friendship between Sasha and Paige as platonic besties who have their routine sleepovers, consisting of drinking a bottle of wine and watching "America's Next Top Model" on DVR. When characters begin making the worst decisions, the film almost begins to say that a traditional heterosexual relationship is the way to live because homosexual relationships are reckless and immature, but that probably wasn't the filmmakers' intention. When Sasha starts dating artist Vanessa (Abby Elliott), an ex of Sasha and Paige's friend Jenn (Beth Dover), they decide to keep their relationship a secret by deleting Jenn on Facebook and plan to pretend they don't know one another when Jenn is around. 

Viewers should find Sasha and Paige adorable, and for a while they are, like how Paige always ends up behind Sasha on the road and honks at her, calling her "bitch" or "slut" in a running joke of faux road rage. With her life in flux, Sasha becomes whiny, needy, and passive-aggressive, and we can't really disagree with Paige that her friend needs to get her shit together. Individually and together, Leighton Meester and Gillian Jacobs are appealing and make their characters feel real and lived-in. They flesh out both characters enough to make us care and they have a funny, loose partnership that allows us to buy them as friends. Adam Brody, Meester's real-life husband, is most likable as Paige's boyfriend Tim who, initially to Paige's dismay, wears labeled T-shirts and quotes movies like "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" and 'The Big Lebowski" (which she has never seen and has only seen half of, respectively). Second-generation "Saturday Night Live" cast members Kate McKinnon and Abby Elliott are funny performers in their own right, but they stand out as sitcommy constructs from the film's established tone as two of Sasha's narcissistic dates. On the sidelines, Gabourey Sidibe is also a hoot as the girls' other friend named Jen. 

"Life Partners" comes with the conventional break-ups and blow-outs, which are mended before the film's end, but writer-director Fogel, screenwriter Lefkowitz, and the actors approach such narrative beats with more humor and emotional honesty than one expects. For an indie production, there are glaring shot-to-shot editing miscues, with dialogue not always matching the movement of the actor's mouth, but otherwise, the film is sunnily photographed in Los Angeles. There is a subplot that pointlessly takes up time, yet maybe to just show Paige not owning up to something, with Paige backing into her next-door neighbor's (Mark Feuerstein) van parked a foot away from her driveway and refusing to pay for the damage, even though she was texting. Just before it seems that Fogel might take an easy way out, "Life Partners" comes full circle and ends on the perfect note where not everything can be solved in a film's run time. One almost hopes it could lead to a network TV series to track Sasha and Paige's ongoing friendship.

Grade: B - 

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