Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 11, 2015 12:19 pm 
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Girls growing up

Life Partners is pleasant to watch. And for older people, with tolerance, it provides interesting samples of the trivia of current late-20-something American female mores, calling your parents "you guys," fussing with your mom over how to pronounce "Nordstrom," apologizing by appearing in a T shirt that says "Epic Fail." When your friend can't come to watch your favorite TV show saying "that's okay; that's what DVR is for." The nuggets come on every page -- that is, every scene. This material feels written -- by director Susanna Fogel and Joni Lefkowitz -- but they write well and fluently. The material isn't earth-shaking. It's basically TV writing, by a pair who've both written for TV and co-starred in a series called "Joni and Susanna." But it has a fresh angle. There are a lot of bromance comedies. This is a girl bromance. And while feeling written, it also feels with-it, authentic, and full of palpable charm. It's also subtle and specific. As the two girls, one gay and one straight (a combo less common in the male-male comedies), gradually find their codependent post-adolescent buddy-hood harder to maintain as they approach thirty, the outcome is both bittersweet and reassuring. And despite the intentional childishness of today's American young adults, Sasha (Leighton Meester) and Paige (Gillian Jacobs) seem quick-witted and lively, and Life Partners subtle about its observance of details of daily life. Does that make it a classic? Hardly. Not enough is at stake: the trivia gets somewhat in the way of a strong plot line. But for those ready to accept the trade-off, this is a worthwhile watch.

Sasha (Leighton Meester) and Paige (Gillian Jacobs) are two young, pretty white women who seem very alike, and Meester and Jacobs play extremely well together). They are both pretty young white women with straight hair, sparkly eyes, sweet smiles. No matter that Sasha is lesbian and a musician who works as a receptionist, a job she performs poorly; that Paige is an up-and-coming eco lawyer. What does matter is that Sasha is still dating randomly, while Tim, (Adrian Brody), a "dorky" dermatologist, Paige's new boyfriend, is not only hot under the glasses and snippets-of-facial hair and wardrobe in need of management, but a grown up guy who makes the reservations and really cares. Paige falls in love with Tim before he says anything and then they get engaged. His way of proposing is original and cute. Sasha's gay gf of the moment turns straight, and she rejects a nice woman Paige "sets up" for her at a lawn party, Veronica (Simone Bailly, an "L Word" vet).

Shasha and Paige stand in a motel pool one evening quietly lamenting the onslaught of age: too old to sit on an airport floor, or doing it, but seeing people look at them and probably saying to themselves that she's too old to be sitting on an airport floor. Sasha's position is more precarious. Her mother thinks she will be the next Patti Smith (she paid a ton of money to send her to music school), but she is a receptionist, for the eighth year. And she's a lesbian: but the trouble isn't so much that as her reaching 29 and still not being in a stable relationship. The triangle is bound to lead to conflict. Sasha and Paige fight. Then so do Paige and Tim. Their fight ends with her telling him "You're being a dick," and he answering "Maybe I just found my dick."

Is Meester trying to seem gay? Would there be any difference? Sasha and Paige are two peas in a pod. Maybe this is why there have to be scenes of Sasha with her lesbian brunch-buddies, including Beth Dover and Gabourey Sidibe, to show she identifies as lesbian. But therein lies a problem: periphery begins to hide foreground. Fogel and Lefkowitz have written in subplots -- those brunches, Paige's stubborn squabble with a neighbor over hitting his car in the driveway while texting, even Paige and Tim's differences over The Big Lebowski vs. her favorite TV show -- that would require a TV series to play out on their own time, and instead detract a little too much time from the girl bromance story. Local color is just great, and very much the stuff of contemporary comedy. But there's nothing like a good story. And this enjoyable little movie just drifts painlessly toward haphazard reconciliations and meanders pleasantly away.

Life Partners, 93 mins., debuted at Tribeca April 2014. Other US festivals. Internet, 6 November; US theatrical release, 5 December. Screened for this review 11 January 2014 for Landmark Theaters release. Showing at Landmark's Opera Plaza Cinema, San Francisco, where it opened 9 January 2015.

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