More than anything, I wish the strong female friendship at the core of Life Partners weren’t such a big deal. I wish we had as many womances as we did bromances, to the point where we could come up with a better genre name. (Wom-coms? No, that’s much worse.) But the fact is, relationships like the one here are depressingly rare. This is a friendship based in mundanity (watching America’s Next Top Model, sharing dressing rooms), in which one character can be gay but still never dips into that overplayed confused love triangle territory, where they may drift apart and have plenty of issues between them, but competition for a guy is not one of them. Their friendship actually IS the point of the movie, instead of being a stepping stone to to something less female-centric. All of the praises that were deservedly showered on Bridesmaids should also be applied here. But Life Partners is so much more than a “new Bridesmaids,” mostly because it has no interest in being that. Though that’s what it will probably will be called, because while a strong female friendship is really the only connection, that’s a rare enough element for it to stand out.
The story here is really nothing new. Paige (Gillian Jacobs) and Sasha (Leighton Meester) are two best friends mourning their 20s (which they’re not even done with yet), forced to face the fundamental ways in which they’re growing up differently. But different as they may be, they still share the kind of bond you’re lucky to find with anyone, ever. When Paige tells Sasha, “I just wanna meet a guy I like as much as you,” we honestly don’t know if that will be possible. Sasha, on the other hand, is content to only have Paige (plus a string of short-term, dim, 20 year old girlfriends, all of whom live with their parents). So when Paige actually does meet a guy she wants to spend more time with, it inevitably leaves less room for Sasha. But what one sees as a natural progression in adulthood, the other sees as being replaced.
See? Not a revelatory plot. There are no twists here. But what the movie lacks in unique concept, it more than makes up in authenticity. There may not be any big surprises, but but the whole thing is surprising. We know this story, but nothing conforms to the clichés we have in mind. Take Adam Brody’s Tim, for example. Initially, it’s hard to see why Paige wants a second date, since he first comes across as a barely tolerable human being, saddled with infinite minor annoyances like a compulsion to constantly quote movies he knows she hasn’t seen. But since we only see him through Paige’s eyes, it simply takes time for his full personhood to come into view. And that happens slowly, over the course of the entire film— so slowly you don’t even notice its happening until suddenly you find yourself wondering when you started liking the guy. Please ignore everything this horrible 90s romcom mess of a poster is trying to tell you:
—and know that his kind of realistic nuance is the foundation for the entire movie.
What we really learned here is the Gillian Jacobs can carry the shit out of a movie. Leighton Meester is also fantastic, and the chemistry between the two is unbelievable (in just how absolutely believable it is). Adam Brody and the supporting cast— Gabourey Sidibe and Beth Dover as Sasha’s lesbian frenemies, and Kate McKinnon in one completely stolen scene— round out a fully lived-in connected web. But Jacobs is something else. Her Paige is severely flawed (domineering and selfish and judgemental), but she’s made of complexities— the real-world version of complexities, not the movie kind that get commented on every time a new one arises. She and Meester, through their extreme commitment to the uneventful, manage to keep us engaged the entire time. This type of “slice of life” indie is so often entertaining for about 45 minutes, and then boring and meandering and masturbatory for the next 45 (or longer if we’re extra unlucky). So it’s extra impressive that this is the feature film debut of Susanna Fogel, who both wrote and directed the movie. What easily could have been a self-indulgent mumblecore mess turned out to be a delightful, quiet, and intensely fun journey through a rare kind of friendship.
Vivian Kane is incapable of saying Leighton Meester’s name in a normal, non-squeaky mouse voice. It’s not possible.