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Tribeca Film Review: ‘Life Partners’

Gal-centric response to rash of 'bromance' comedies pairs straight and gay gal pals in appealing gaffer.

Leighton Meester, Gillian Jacobs, Adam Brody, Abby Elliot, Julie White, Gabourey Sidibe, Kate McKinnon, Beth Dover, Greer Grammer.

Despite “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” and other bubbly BFF pairings, the number of female-centric comedies that use friendship as an excuse to wallow in childish regression still lags far behind the countless “bromances” guilty of same. Attempting to even the field, first-time helmer Susana Fogel and writing partner Joni Lefkowitz’s wry “Life Partners” reps a well-scripted, intriguingly-acted effort to mine the theme of prolonged adolescent best-buddyism through two women — one straight, the other gay. Building three-dimensional characters within generic stereotypes and replacing broad comic strokes with quietly rueful idiocies, this breezy, authentic-feeling indie should find appreciative followers among both genders.

Paige (Gillian Jacobs), an environmental lawyer who tends toward the conventional, and Sasha (Leighton Meester), who nine-to-fives as a receptionist but defines herself as a musician, have been best friends forever. They stage fake ‘road rage’ confrontations, exiting their cars and yelling “bitch” and “slut” at each other at the top of their lungs, then get together to watch “Top Model” while indulging in cheap pink wine and catty snark. But mainly they’re always there for one another, spending the night at each other’s place when too tired or tipsy to drive home. In short, they make each other happy.

Still mateless and approaching the dreaded age of 29, however, they both cruise the internet for dates. While Sasha’s trolling nets her a short-lived but hilarious encounter with a reality-show ballbuster (SNL alum Kate McKinnon), Paige lands Tim (Adam Brody), a T-shirt-sporting, movie-quoting dermatologist. The hetero couple improbably clicks despite his dubious sartorial choices and despite her having seen only half of “The Big Lebowski,” leaving Sasha bereft. Sasha’s attempts to hook up with a main squeeze result in a string of increasingly younger g.f.s who still reside with their mommies.

Though the filmmakers examine Paige and Tim’s travails, both minor (mutual cluelessness about one another’s entertainment-watching rituals) and major (Paige’s mother-enabled inability to admit she’s wrong), most of the rest of the pic explores Sasha’s adventures with the job she hates and the women she loves. In fact, virtually all of the secondary characters in the film, except for Paige’s mother (Julie White), are gay friends of Sasha with whom both Paige and Sasha initially hang out, as creative team Fogel and Lefkowitz invent a whole gallery of gay gals to counteract Paige and Tim’s super-straight suburban couplehood.

The filmmakers limn Sasha’s pals and partners with casual, non-stereotypical comic strokes, the exception being Beth Dover’s highly caricatured, Paul Lynde-channeling turn as Jenn (not to be confused with “one-N” Jen, portrayed with droll matter-of-factness by Gabourey Sidibe). These characters form a relatively small, generally supportive but quasi-incestuous bunch. When Sasha hooks up with Jenn’s ex, Vanessa (Abby Elliot, excellent), she deploys elaborate stratagems to fake reluctantly ‘easing’ into the relationship. Even then, her affection never blinds her to the way Vanessa checks her reflection in the mirror, mid-embrace, or boasts of her “signature” sex moves even while performing them.

But the movie belongs to thesps Jacobs and Meester. Jacobs fully inhabits her less-than-completely-sympathetic role with warmth and just the right touch of unconscious entitlement, while Meester luminously expands the film’s affective core.

Though vague in setting, “Partners” practically screams Southern California. Brian Burgoyne’s bleach-bright lensing and Kiran Pallegadda’s laid-back editing give “Partners” a feeling of eternal summer.

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Tribeca Film Review: 'Life Partners'

Reviewed at the Tribeca Film Festival (Spotlight), April 24, 2014. Running time: 93 MIN.

Production: A Sania Media, Minerva Productions presentation of a Haven Entertainment, Red Crown production. (International sales: Myriad Pictures, Santa Monica.) Produced by Joni Lefkowitz, Jordana Mollick, Brendan Bragg, Riva Marker, Daniela Taplin Lundberg. Executive producers, Anne O’Shea, Peter Touche, Daniel Crown. Co-producers, Dominic Ottersbach, Anthony Brandoniso.

Crew: Directed by Susana Fogel. Screenplay by Fogel, Joni Lefkowitz. Camera (color, HD), Brian Burgoyne; editor, Kiran Pallegadda; music, Eric D. Johnson; music supervisors, Jennifer Pyken, Melany Mitchell; production designer, Matt Luem; costume designer, Courtney Hoffman; sound, Rudy Zasloff; supervising sound editor, Javier Bennassar; re-recording mixer, Bennassar; casting, Sunday Boling, Meg Morman.

With: Leighton Meester, Gillian Jacobs, Adam Brody, Abby Elliot, Julie White, Gabourey Sidibe, Kate McKinnon, Beth Dover, Greer Grammer.

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