Best friendships can be just as meaningful, complicated, and thorny as romantic relationships, but they’re rarely accorded the same level of contemplation and emotional nuance by the movies. By borrowing the narrative structure of the rom-com, co-writer (with Joni Lefkowitz) and director Susanna Fogel argues for the primacy of the BFF-ship in the maturing-pains comedy “Life Partners.”
But a waxen falseness suffuses the stilted, stubbornly generic picture, from the casting to the humor to the lesbian-friendly milieu. Like the fast-food mozzarella sticks one of the characters devours in moments of existential woe, it feels like a calculated imitation rather than the real thing.
“Life Partners” gets off to a joyful start when the straight and successful Paige (Gillian Jacobs) and the gay and still-figuring-it-out Sasha (Leighton Meester) stage a fit of road rage in front of bewildered pedestrians. “Thanks for cutting me off!” Sasha yells out the window of her beat-up clunker. “You almost took my side mirror off, slut!” retorts Paige from her shiny new Prius. When they storm out of their cars and into each other’s face, they dissolve into giggles; it’s clear this is their appealingly weird bonding ritual.
Disappointingly, Paige and Sasha’s friendship never enjoys another moment as idiosyncratic and convincing as that opening scene. Apart from a shared interest in “America’s Next Top Model” — a cultural touchstone for most 20-something women — it’s never quite clear what the two have in common. Jacobs and Meester also lack that crucial spark and eerie closeness best friends often have; their dialogue plays out instead like two trains passing each other, with each side focused on what’s just to the right of their scene partner.
The film barely makes a case to root for their friendship when it widens Paige and Sasha’s already diverging paths with the entrance of Paige’s new serious boyfriend Tim (a goateed and bespectacled Adam Brody). As a habitual movie-quoter obsessed with “The Big Lebowski” — he scoffs in disbelief when he learns that Paige has only seen the first half of the Coen Brothers film — Tim comes closest to something resembling real life. Brody also gets the benefit of a bizarre but earnest and hilarious proposal scene that involves a growth on his character’s back.
The two central characters, on the other hand, are stranded in overly broad (and thus presumably ultra-relatable) crises, perhaps to counteract the novelty of Sasha’s lesbianness. Nearing thirty and nowhere close to making her dream of a music career happen, Sasha tries to lose her troubles in other women’s beds, eventually alienating her gay friends (Gabourey Sidibe and Beth Dover) by sleeping with a pal’s ex (Abby Elliot as yet another crazy hot chick).
Fogel’s aim to normalize gayness boasts its own merits, and yet her queer characters are so timidly archetypal and the plot so methodical that I wish the film could feature more subcultural specificity, if only to distinguish it from every other indie about not having it all by some arbitrary age. Paige’s subplot about learning how to be less of a control freak as a thriving career woman feels even more frustrating in its familiarity.
“Life Partners” does offer a few astute observations about what it feels like to lose your best friend to new milestones. But this film about the inevitability of change settles in too comfortably into prefabricated patterns itself.