“One guy can ruin the perfect relationship”: both a tagline and an ironic revelation into the heart of Life Partners. The indie dramedy tells the story of the best-friendship between Sasha and Paige—portrayed effortlessly by Leighton Meester and Gillian Jacobs, respectively—and the struggle to maintain their bond in the midst of Sasha’s rocky gay hookups offset by Paige’s new healthy relationship with Tim, played by a typically charming Adam Brody. Nothing in the world of Life Partners is perfect, particularly not the central friendship. On one hand, this speaks to the reality and depth of the story’s characters, but it’s also descriptive of the movie’s overall effect. The only element nearing perfection in the film is Brody’s Tim, wherein lies the ultimate setback in achieving narrative closure of a movie about the relationship between two women.
Don’t get me wrong, Life Partners looks great on paper. Never before has a film attempted to explore the gay-straight dynamic in female friendships and in such a natural way. This film meets its goal for the most part—aside from the fact that each girl’s character description stereotypically mirrors her sexual preference. Paige is a “straight”-laced, Prius-driving, environmentalist lawyer, while Sasha is a complete wild card, open to everything, and aspiring to be a musician while working as a receptionist. Despite their differences, they do share a few key traits in common—their immature sense of humor when together (i.e. putting on staged bouts of road rage at stop lights), a love for America’s Next Top Model, the looming cloud of their thirties, and thereby a reluctance to entirely mature and “grow up.”
Both Meester and Jacobs shine in their respective roles, affecting equally both heart and humor throughout their performances and falling into a natural chemistry. Meester manages to bring a likeable and realistic gravity to the familiar character of the late-twenties artist who is still struggling to find herself and shies away from all forms of commitment. In turn, Jacobs exhibits the poise needed to embody a seemingly put-together professional with control issues that push her to focus on everyone’s faults but her own. Both characters are forced to overcome these flaws in order to sustain their changing friendship.
For much of the plot, Paige and Sasha futilely attempt to mend their relationship on their own one-sided terms. Paige, in her controlling manner, takes it upon herself to change Sasha, giving her unsolicited “help” in the form of an awkward set-up that ultimately backfires. Sasha endeavors to save the friendship by avoiding change while organizing the same ANTM-watching, cheap wine-drinking hangouts that Paige seems to have less and less time for. One instance in which neither friend is trying to control the situation or desperately salvage the past comes in the form of a double date with Tim and Sasha’s flavor-of-the-month destructive relationship, but this scene just manages to expose their growing distance and make it nearly impossible for mutual and parallel growth. When their individual character development finally begins to take effect, it is almost in spite of one another.
This is where Brody’s unassuming and seeming cypher of a boyfriend comes in. Existing primarily as a vessel for the Sasha-Paige relationship to test its strength, Tim ends up as the film’s voice of reason and the catalyst for both Sasha’s and Paige’s growth. He forces Paige to address her debilitating control issues (which also involves Paige’s equally moral neighbor with whom she engages in an ongoing dispute, and who arbitrarily is the only other male presence in the film). Tim also inspires Sasha to seriously re-evaluate her future for the first time, which occurs in a short but sweet chance encounter at the grocery store just before she begins to get her life together. For such a minor character he seems to hold a serious amount of misplaced power. Despite inconsequential surface flaws judgmentally observed by Paige—he isn’t the sharpest dresser, and perhaps spouts movie quotes a bit too often (since when is that a bad thing?)—he is at his core a morally and maturely sound figure. For a film meant to primarily celebrate women and their relationships, this is problematic.
Tim being the fulcrum by which the main relationships survive brings up another significant flaw, although one less crucial to the plot – the lack of any meaningful gay relationships represented in the film. Sasha and Paige spend some of their time with a larger group of gay female friends, seemingly out of convenience and as vehicles for social drama. These side characters only add an aura of superficiality and are devoid of any lasting romantic connections. It could be argued that this is for the sake of Sasha’s character development and her eventual transition into a more responsible way of life (including fewer hookups with girls who still live with their parents), but this ultimately takes away from the presumably desired effect of empowered female relationships.
The Verdict: 3 out of 5
The film’s individual performances are elegantly executed with intelligent dialogue and dynamic characters imagined by writer-director Susanna Fogel. At its heart, Life Partners is a relatable and heartwarming story of a friendship under pressure. However, Sasha and Paige’s relationship ends as immaturely as it begins in the first moments of the film, leading a solid first half to an unsatisfying end. Not to say immaturity is purely bad, every great friendship has it, but the fact that their relationship doesn’t experience any signs of their growth only strengthens the idea of Tim’s isolated influence. For accuracy’s sake, the poster’s tagline should state something to the effect of “one guy possibly makes stronger an imperfect relationship”—I’m not sure that’s what Fogel was going for, though.