Paige (Community‘s Gillian Jacobs) and Sasha (Gossip Girl‘s Leighton Meester) are best friends. They stage fights if they end up driving behind each other. They watch America’s Next Top Model together. It doesn’t matter than Sasha’s a lesbian, or that Paige is a successful eco-lawyer while Sasha is just a stoner secretary; they love each other anyways. Problems arise when they go out on an internet date on the same night. Paige finds a doctor (Meester’s real-life spouse Adam Brody) and gets serious, while Sasha’s dating life is still a bust. How does a friendship last when one friend wants to advance in a traditional manner, while the other is perfectly content to maintain the status quo?
To talk about Life Partners without recalling the movies that came before it is nearly impossible, especially given the shadow that it lives under. But, it’s the differences that makes Life Partners work as a film.
The arrested development of the American Male is a well-trodden source of material. But, it hasn’t been until recently that the American female has truly been given their arrested development due. Sure, one could go back to My Best Friend’s Wedding and assume that Julianne Potter was in a state of arrested development because she hadn’t married until she was 28, even though she was a successful career woman who had less time for men than career. Young Adult put Marvis Gray in a literal state of arrested development by not letting her get past her teenage state of being.
Life Partners follows the more recent trend marked by Laggies and Frances Ha, where one woman just doesn’t have the impetus to grow into adulthood. In fact, Life Partners is a much more likable copy of Frances Ha. Here’s the plot to both movies: Two women are lifelong besties. One is more successful, while the other is stunted in her career and ambitions. The more successful one gets engaged and moves in with her husband-to-be, leaving the other to flounder around for a little while and figure out her shit. Meanwhile, the more successful one has to confront her own control issues and figure out if that’s who she wants to be.
Other than the plot, Life Partners feels nothing like Frances Ha. Where Frances Ha was a failed exercise in New Wave film style, Life Partners is blandly unambitious in its visual aesthetic. Where Frances Ha praised the fail upward mobility of its main character, Life Partners passed judgement on the undeveloped ambitions of a stoner mooch who could be something more. Frances Ha is bitter and caustic while Life Partners is sweet and winning. Frances Ha focuses on one obnoxious and entitled character, while Life Partners makes it about both characters and the world they live in. Frances Ha wants us to believe that it is about the real world (even though a kind-of-broke woman can end up in a pied a terre in Paris, rent free). Life Partners doesn’t hide its sitcom sensibilities.
Life Partners is the definition of a successful hangout movie. The details and quirks of Paige and Sasha are lovingly detailed, and probably derived from the real life friendship of co-writer/director Susanna Fogel and co-writer Joni Lefkowitz. The movie made me laugh and smile. The stakes are relatively low. It’s insightful without being serious. The depth is in the details but not the plot. Meester and Jacobs all have a chemistry together that feels like a well-worn friendship that hits the rocks, and they both work well with Brody.
And, really, that’s about all that Life Partners wants to do. It wants to be a winning film about a relationship that you can watch with your bestie. In that, it succeeds.