“I just wanna meet a guy I like as much as you,” Paige (Gillian Jacobs) says to Sasha (Leighton Meester). The sentiment makes sense: The co-heroines of Life Partners are made for each other, in the way that close friendships forged in young adulthood often demand. Though Paige has become a successful lawyer while Sasha toils away at a receptionist day job to support her theoretical career as a musician, their socioeconomic differences don’t seem to interfere with the rituals of their friendship, which include going to brunch, making fun of America’s Next Top Model while also following it religiously, holding impromptu sleepovers, and calling each other at all hours to report on bad dates. But when one of those dates actually goes pretty well, and Paige starts to get serious with genial nerd-bro Tim (Adam Brody), the women’s bond starts to weaken. Fumbling toward their 30s together loses some of its fun when Paige’s grown-up life starts to pick up speed.
If this all sounds more than a little familiar, it’s probably because similar material about young-ish women growing up and maybe apart has been staged recently and on a variety of scales, from the scrappy intimacy of Frances Ha to the broader comedy of Bridesmaids. Life Partners isn’t as ebullient as the former or laugh-out-loud funny as the latter, but it maintains a sharp specificity about both of its lead characters’ lives. It also offers a change of pace from Frances and Bridesmaids in that the two friends are given equal screen time. Even when Paige recedes from Sasha’s life, she doesn’t disappear from the movie; their friendship is more than a vivid feeling chased with an aching absence.
Another notable difference between Life Partners and its well-loved predecessors: Sasha is gay. Director-cowriter Susanna Fogel and co-writer Joni Lefkowitz make the smart decision to render this detail clearly while keeping it a non-factor in the conflict at hand. The movie never makes insulting assumptions about a sexual attraction between a gay woman and a straight one; the characters’ platonic faux-relationship is more a product of Sasha and Paige being mutually single than any latent romance.
Instead of forming a predictable love triangle, the movie concentrates on the rhythms of smartassed but unassured women, with well-observed and well-delivered dialogue about aging (“There are certain things I can’t do anymore, like sit on the floor at airports,” Paige notes) and guys who wear “message tees” and over-quote movies (Brody embodies that guy with realistic, endearing lameness). Most of the time, the banter doesn’t sound like banter; the movie shares Sasha and Paige’s unforced shorthand. A few of the lines turn slightly sitcom, maybe because just about every member of the cast save Gabourey Sidibe (charming in a minor role) is a TV pro, down to a couple of Saturday Night Live folks doing work that’s more funny caricature than insightful characterization. But Life Partners doesn’t limit its observations to dialogue; it also does a fine, understated job of showing how people have absorbed mediated communication into their lives without attempting a grand statement on the effects of texting or Facebook on how we live.
The movie’s craft is similarly unobtrusive yet effective. Fogel cuts in and out of scenes without wasting time; not a single one overstays its welcome, but the movie feels concise rather than truncated. She also gets strong performances from her two leads: Meester is especially affecting as an aspiring artist starting to ask herself how artistic she actually is, and Jacobs generates tension from festering little problems like a minor fender-bender that Paige refuses to resolve “on principle.” Both actresses stay attuned to the neuroses of their characters, right down to the way close friends talk about each other behind their backs. Life Partners probably won’t galvanize anyone who’s seen Frances Ha or watches Girls on HBO, but it is a quiet reminder of just how sweet and funny an indie comedy can be.