Saturday, 3 September 2016

Life Partners (2014)

I watched this in July. It could have easily been filed under: Damn Just Back From Ghostbusters Need Me More Kate McKinnon! And subsequently filed as Disappointing; She's Only In One Scene! But actually Life Partners was really quite special in its own quiet indie little way.

For a start, it's a film that offers roles for women with the upmost respect and depicts them as fully rounded characters, rather than broad cartoons, sounding boards for male characters and plot contrivances. In this tale of a long-term female friendship that is starting to experience cracks because one character has found love with a man she wants to spend the rest of her life with, we are treated to a believable and authentic situation that is leaps and bounds from what Hollywood is churning out on a regular basis. Even more commendably, the female friendship at the film's core is between a heterosexual girl and a lesbian girl; with the latter's homosexuality depicted in the most refreshing, honest and natural manner.

Of course what really helps this ring of authenticity and absolute heart is the casting. I'm familiar with Gillian Jacobs from the days when I religiously watched Community (ie the days before Chevy Chase left) and always admired her comic chops and her attractiveness. This is the first film I've seen her in a central role and she proves without a doubt that she can make the transition from TV sitcom to big screen and belongs in leading roles. As Paige, the heterosexual she delivers an utterly grounded performance imbued with a natural charm and a great chemistry with her BFF Sasha (Leighton Meester). The scenes of these two co-dependent friends, helping each other through relationship or singleton woes, watching trashy TV together in their PJ's, talking everyday on the phone, or playing little gags like pretending they're total strangers as they fabricate road rage incidents to startle onlookers, are portrayed with such authenticity and feels so real and genuine that it's hard to believe they're performing from a script. It has the ad-libbed, natural air that makes it feel like you're genuinely watching two young women who have known each other for a lifetime. As such, it's easy to believe and invest in them as best friends which is, of course, utterly integral to the film. 

It's from that investment that we actually care about these characters and so, when the friendship between Sasha and Paige is tested by the latter finding love with Tim (Adam Brody, Meester's husband in real life), we are affected. We feel for Sasha, an underachieving girl who is uncertain what she wants to do with her life and who bounces from relationship to relationship, commiserating with Paige and her other lesbian friends like the two Jen's; Gabourey Sidibe's Jen and Beth Dover's Jenn (the pair being known as 'One N' and 'Two N' respectively, with an amusing aside that 'too many lesbians are called Jen') as she fears she's starting to lose Paige to life's natural progression, and we feel concerned when she enters into a series of ill advised relationships seemingly in an attempt to prove to Paige that she can progress and have what she has too. Enter scene-stealing turns from Abby Elliott as a vapid, self-loving flake and the aforementioned Kate McKinnon as 'a baritone', and star of To Catch a Predator, whose idea of flirting is - as Sasha reveals - raising two fingers and saying 'sit on it' 

In a way, Life Partners is a film about a love triangle, with Brody's Tim initially appearing like yet another disappointment for the similarly unlucky in love Paige. He's a film nerd (in fact, he's almost certain to have a Letterboxd account!) who quotes films at every turn, owns way too many slogan T-shirts and says things like 'Gotcha'. And yet, despite these being faults in Paige's eyes, she actually sees enough in him to develop the relationship. For his part, he is clearly genuine in his attraction and affection for her, making it satisfyingly impossible to depict him as 'The Bad Guy' taking Paige away from Sasha. The way the relationship develops between Tim and Paige is handled effectively and again, believably, especially as a subplot allows her to realise her own faults against his. This makes for yet another strength in Life Partners favour; this is an accurate depiction of two people falling in love - a love that will last - that is a world away from any big budget Hollywood romcom.

Ultimately, Life Partners message is about how romance changes everything and how, if we are not careful, we can leave people behind when we fall in love. It perfectly captures that divide, and the sobering realisation that, for the singleton on the outside, we may no longer be the most important person in our best friend's life, even if they're still performing that role in ours. But that if we can recalibrate and weather the adjustment, the friendship will ultimately survive. It's something we've all been through, on both sides, and Life Partners accurate depiction of it is a pleasantly surprising and refreshingly honest experience.

It's on frickin' YouTube guys! Go watch!

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