To promote Susanna Fogel’s breezy Life Partners as a romantic comedy and an LGBT film would be, pointless pigeonholing aside, somewhat misleading. In reality, the romantic elements are secondary to what is essentially an astute and cleverly written dissection of a co-dependent friendship being gradually eroded by the incremental ravages of age, rivalry, and rapidly diverging personal arcs. In a cinematic landscape that routinely reduces female friendships to catfights-in-the-making or to idealized love affairs, Fogel’s knotty yet fair-minded account of one such bond feels refreshingly free of spiteful stereotypes or contrived plotting.
Through her sensitive screenplay, co-written by Joni Lefkowitz, and able collaboration with stellar leads Gillian Jacobs and Leighton Meester, Fogel reveals herself to be attuned to emotional nuance, to the ebbs and flows of a longstanding relationship. Jacobs and Meester play platonic life partners Paige and Sasha, joined at the hip for years and privy to each other’s existential peaks and troughs. Well-adjusted adults, however, tend to grow out of co-dependent friendships, and Life Partners is about that transitory moment when the dynamic shifts and one person is left behind. The adult in this instance is Paige, a successful environmental lawyer whose professional and personal prospects are expanding as quickly as musician turned secretary Sasha’s are diminishing. The turning point arrives when Paige falls for dorky dermatologist Tim (Adam Brody) after an amusing anti-meet-cute of a first date in which he’s appalled by her inability to catch quotes from The Big Lebowski while she balks at his defiantly normcore wardrobe. But as they learn to look past each other’s sartorial and cinematic choices and settle into a permanent relationship, Sasha is forced to relinquish her central place in Paige’s life to Tim, even as she flounders in the throes of a quarter-life crisis.
These characters, all of whom feel fleshed out and thoroughly lived-in, constitute the foundation of a story that unfolds organically, blessedly free of the twee self-regard common to films about millennials in flux. Which isn’t to say that the characters themselves aren’t occasionally narcissistic, as both Paige and Sasha can be selfish and inconsiderate in their own ways. The film’s frankness about the things friends sometimes do to one another (or fail to do for one another), and its steadfast stance on where the line should be drawn in terms of self-sacrifice within a friendship, set it apart from similarly themed contemporaries. Fogel doesn’t allow Paige or Sasha any easy reconciliations; every eventual step forward is underscored by the vaguely discomfiting realization that the boundaries have been and, in fact, should be permanently redrawn.
The story’s pricklier stretches are leavened with just the right amount of witty exchanges, situational humor, and endearing bonding sessions to make the film feel like a thoroughly agreeable lark. It also helps that Life Partners never feels issue-driven or self-conscious. There are no Diablo Cody-esque faux-feminist agendas or all-encompassing statements about the post-recession woes of the terminally self-entitled. This is particularly evident in the handling of Sasha, who’s gay but whose sexuality is incidental to the central relationship and whose dating tribulations are never coded as somehow separate from the heterosexual milieu represented by Paige. While loud-and-proud LGBT characters are becoming comparatively common in entertainment, there’s still a dearth of nuanced, flesh-and-blood leads who just so happen to be gay or bisexual. This casually universal feel extends to every aspect of Life Partners, making it resistant to the sort of reductionist ghettoization (“Hey ladies!” bubbles one of the film’s promotional tweets) that often hobbles movies focusing on women or LGBT protagonists. Its relatability is, ultimately, the key component of its success. As such, the experiences portrayed here are familiar to anyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, who’s ever been abandoned by an old friend and left alone to face the badly dressed, Lebowski-resisting barbarians at the gate.