I’m turning 23 this week and I’m a little worried. I mean really, truly, concerned over the state of the start of my “adult life” that has seemingly regressed since graduating college rather than moved forward. While a great film is able to relate no matter your age, gender, race, sexuality etc., sometimes a film is perfectly fitted for you in a very particular time in your life. Life Partners worked for me for a number of reasons, but it likely wouldn’t have resonated quite as much if I wasn’t currently going through similar situations as the lead characters.
The long term, co-dependent friendship of Sasha (Leighton Meester) and Paige (Gillian Jacobs) is tested when Paige meets Tim (Adam Brody). Tim is affable, nerdy and constantly quoting movies, but most importantly he’s the first guy in a long time who sticks. Anyone who’s had a friend enter a new, serious relationship knows that this means distance. You still need them but their reliance on you in turn lessens, not out of malevolence but out of growth with another person. Sasha misses Paige, Paige refuses to try and understand Sasha’s feelings while continuing to judge her for the women she’s been seeking non-committal flings with, and tension begins to develop.
None of the emotional pit-stops or conflicts are all that surprising; they’re essentially mapped out from the first ten minutes of the film. But the dialogue and the naturalistic chemistry between all three lead actors allows for the film to be genuinely touching and effective despite not being anything new in terms of how the story is structured.
Director Susanna Fogel and her co-writer Joni Lefkowitz have created a film that defies convention by centering on the friendship between Paige and Sasha, allowing the romantic subplots to take B-storyline status and engaging the audience by using terminology that’s reflective of the modern age and truly getting what a female friendship is. Even though it’s unpolished, and the ending needs a stronger and less abrupt resolution, it’s the direction Hollywood should be taking: female filmmakers telling stories about women and their relationships. Despite Sasha’s sexuality, the writers never contrive a plot to make her seem jealous of Tim and Paige’s romance, just the companionship that Paige so effortlessly transfers from Sasha to Tim.
This film gets so many of the little moments right. Sasha and Paige having television nights where they marathon America’s Next Top Model, drinking cheap, twist-off top pink wine, looking like a slob when there’s no one you’re trying to impress, being so comfortable that the typical conversation isn’t always keeping one another up to date but rather participating in an ever-moving forward dialogue – all of these moments, these details, are relatable, and they seem insignificant until you realize how infrequently you see them on screen.
Despite typically not being a fan of Jacob’s screen presence, she works here as someone who’s used to getting her way without being aware of it, and while the storyline with her hitting her neighbor’s car is the movie’s most frustrating subplot, it’s also very real. Sometimes we want to win the argument even when we know we’re wrong. She shares an easygoing rapport with Brody, and the two seem like a normal couple who over time begin to simply inhibit one another’s space without even realizing it. Meester is the standout, though, as Sasha, who is a mess, isn’t ready to grow up completely, and who keeps on hooking up with girls who are still in college – the age group she tells Paige early in the movie that she still wishes she was a part of. Meester is such a natural presence on screen in this film, and there’s no false note in any emotion she shares.
Meester also gets to deliver one of the most on-the-nose moments about the hardships of growing up. She decided years ago after school that she’d take jobs that were mindless so that she could make an income all the while she pursued her passion, which was music. Her parents have spent a lot of money on a potential music career and now, eight years later, she’s still doodling on the pages where she’s supposed to be writing lyrics, her guitar is buried under a pile of junk, and she is no longer sure what her dream is and how to pursue it. Tearfully, she tells Paige that she misses being 21 when it was easier. We watch Sasha self-destruct but in very minor ways, not the typical cinematic approach where every emotion is big and life-changing. She sleeps with girls she knows she shouldn’t, she’s forgetful at work, she drives through a fast food drive-through to buy two orders of mozzarella sticks to eat alone in the parking lot, and breaks down later in the film when she does the same thing and they’ve run out.
It’s not any end of the world problems, but in the moment, when you’re feeling overwhelmed, scared, or maybe just really missing your friend’s comforting shoulder, the little stuff seems huge.
This film isn’t perfect, and it could have been better, but Fogel has created something fresh and relatable in a very specific and deliberate way.
The film is out on VOD now and will be out in theaters December 5th.