In many ways, it’s comforting and exciting that Life Partners exists: a genuinely funny comedy about two female friends that doesn’t involve a wedding or fighting over guys. Plus, it’s a smorgasbord of incredible talent, with Community‘s Gillian Jacobs and Gossip Girl‘s Leighton Meester possessing a stranglehold on the two leads, playing codependent besties with crackling comedic chemistry.
Sasha (Meester’s stuck in neutral character) is a lesbian, who brings Paige (Jacobs) to gay pride festivals and lesbian bars, joined by the insane Jen(n)’s: Jen (American Horror Story’s Gabourey Sidibe) and Jenn (Burning Love’s Beth Dover). Life Partners exists in a world where all anyone talks about is their singlehood. Paige and Sasha are obviously single, and painfully so. They watch America’s Next Top Model incessantly and have pink wine induced sleepovers at each other’s houses, knowing what pillow the other favors when they share a bed. Paige is an environmental lawyer, whereas Sasha languishes at a receptionist job, with an increasingly wavering eye toward a musical career that she doesn’t work toward.
Unfortunately, a guy is what comes between them, when a late night Tinder sesh turns into a long-term relationship with Tim (an always adorable Adam Brody) for Paige. Sasha’s Tinder date ended up being a disastrous drink with a “baritone” woman who works for To Catch a Predator (memorably played by SNL alum Kate McKinnon). At times, the film almost veers into the romantic comedy territory that it’s so desperately trying to avoid, as Paige and Sasha snipe about one other’s love life. There are moments where I wonder if this movie even passes the Bechdel test (assuming that in this case when one of the two women is a lesbian, talking about a woman is equivalent to talking about a man so long as it’s under a romantic subtext), but of course it does.
Luckily, it’s not really about the guy (and it helps that Adam Brody is impossible to dislike), it’s about how the change in Paige’s relationship status warps their friendship, and showcases the ugly side of what happens when friends drift apart. It’s a universal story, one in which their profound differences that have been smoothed over or ignored because of their codependency and lack of having anyone else, come barreling out with pent up vigor when circumstances change.
Life Partners is a buddy romantic comedy with two X chromosomes, a bramance instead of a bromance (sorry). And it feels so realistic: writer-director Susanna Fogel (Chasing Life) has imbued the film with realism, a ton of awkward humor that boils into vitriolic conflict between Paige, Sasha, Tim and the Jen’s. In many ways, none of these characters are likable. Paige is stuck up, texts while drives, doesn’t admit she’s wrong to a cringe-worthy extent and is super judgy. Sasha routinely hooks up with young girls who live with their parents, and is one of those people who complains about her job and life incessantly instead of doing something about it. Jenn is probably a serial killer.
These are the kind of characters (and people) we see all the time, but they’re normally played by men, and we’re supposed to like them (and oftentimes don’t). Whereas I find myself openly wondering who actually thinks most of the stock characters in studio comedies are funny, Paige and Sasha openly admit that they’re the only two people in the world that think they’re funny. Fogel doesn’t care if we like Paige or Sasha, and that’s exactly why we like them. They seem stolen from our social life. They are our social life, whether you’re a man, woman or lesbian, and that’s the point.
Leighton Meester, in particular, is a revelation to me (we know Jacobs can play a funny but grating character, though we’ve never been blessed/cursed with such a large dose). I’ve never seen Gossip Girl, but Meester’s persona gives you certain expectations: that Meester was constructed in a lab as another sexy multi-hyphenate who can be safely recycled through various tenets of pop culture. She dashes them, playing off her music career for laughs, and being genuinely hilarious and hilariously genuine in turn, while always being relatable, thanks to her blatant vulnerability. She’s almost exclusively the best part of every scene she’s in, and that includes bouncing off another SNL veteran in Abby Elliott and a slew of other great performers.
Life Partners is a painfully accurate film; it’s one we’ve seen several times before, but never quite like this, thanks to such a talented and diverse female cast, making it worth a look.
Director: Susanna Fogel
Writers: Susanna Fogel, Joni Lefkowitz
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Runtime: 95 minutes