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Tribeca Review: 'Life Partners' Starring Gillian Jacobs, Leighton Meester And Adam Brody

Reviews
by Gabe Toro
April 19, 2014 10:25 AM
20 Comments
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"Life Partners"

There are two types of intolerable people, and they're both present in “Life Partners.” This comedy depicts a friendship between two grown women, both of whom find themselves shifting in different directions. Responsible Paige (Gillian Jacobs) has a regular 9-to-5 position at a law firm and social gadfly Sasha (Leighton Meester) toils away at a thankless receptionist job, and while neither of these jobs should define these characters, they inevitably do. This shorthand complicates a potentially fine source of drama, because Paige is straight and Sasha is gay.

On the cusp of thirty, both girls find themselves settling into familiar routines, and it's here where those intolerable types manifest. The tomboyish Sasha spends days at a local lesbian bar with a Greek chorus of over-dramatic friends, prattling on about her daily annoyances and frequently refreshing her Facebook page, now permanently shrugging off her initial dreams of being a singer-songwriter. Paige herself doesn't seem to have much of a lifestyle, however, beyond junk food binging with Sasha and talking over “America's Next Top Model.” The unspoken truth is that Paige has begun to tire of others. She already has a house in suburbia, and avoiding others is second nature: she seems to have introduced herself to a neighbor (Mark Feuerstein) by accidentally running into his car. Somehow, her refusal to pay for repairs is treated as a relevant subplot.

This is another independent film where obstacles come equipped with traffic signs so you note them far ahead, minutes before arrival. Supporting characters frequently fall into sketch caricature: “SNL” vets Kate McKinnon and Abby Elliot stop by as two of Sasha's preening, oblivious conquests, neither given a chance to create a real person out of a collection of tics. And the spastic Tim (Adam Brody) represents not exactly love for Paige, but stability, even though he has an endless array of joke t-shirts and a habit of uncomfortably quoting movies in conversation. There's a kernel of truth to his sitcom-y apoplexy when he is stunned to find out Paige has only seen half of “The Big Lebowski.”

Of course, these are also the sort of characters who talk and laugh over “The Big Lebowski” as if it was some dimwit laugh riot. Tim doesn't watch the film, he “meme-watches” the film, talking back to the screen and murmuring “so great, so great” at his favorite parts. It feels like a cheap wedge between Sasha and Paige that she would enjoy the company of this white-collar square, one who calls a Coen Brothers film his favorite, but also goes around quoting “Talladega Nights.” By the time Tim places golf clubs in his trunk, it feels like an obvious tipoff about how we're supposed to feel about him: the picture is consistently moments away from just calling him a Republican. Brody remains an excessively superficial screen personality who has become kryptonite to small indies. If you're wondering if he can bring humanity to this character, clearly you've never seen a movie that Brody has ruined, which is to say you may never have seen a movie with Adam Brody.

There's something vaguely discomforting about the movie's dismissal of Sasha's lifestyle and acceptance of Paige's fairly common heterosexual courtship. Most of Sasha's friends and conquests never feel like three-dimensional people. An exception is a fellow barfly played by Gabourey Sidibe, the only real element in a film packed to the brim with TV-style quipping and forced slapstick. She spends most of her screen time sitting by the two leads and reacting silently. Her body language is limited, but she's always doing something, always thinking something, her eyes narrow, her diplomatic silences saying more than any dialogue in the rest of the film. Of course, the film eventually discards her as she contributes to an out-of-character third act betrayal. What's this character's story? “Life Partners” ultimately implies that a homosexual lifestyle is one of frivolity and unemployment, while heterosexuality is a more “proper” way of living.

Ultimately, it's the sort of film where music montages are used like wallpaper to take narrative shortcuts and minimize messy conflict. It's unfortunate, since close mutual relationships between homosexuals and heterosexuals are heavily prevalent in society but rarely onscreen, the gay character often relegated to supporting character status. But no one ever even hints that maybe one is smitten with the other, under the assumption that they have always been platonic friends who have frequent sleepovers. It seems naive at best, dim at worst: we're not there yet as a society where that doesn't feel like a potentially rich subplot chucked away for a film that merely follows the inoffensive indie handbook about friends growing apart in unremarkable ways. [D]

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20 Comments

  • Katie | May 14, 2014 6:43 PMReply

    where do we watch this movie?

  • Felicia | April 27, 2014 6:49 AMReply

    I'm going to fully admit something: this review made me mad so I went to go see and then hope to take down this reviewer. Sadly, he's right. This movie is dreadful, the story is full of cliche and the acting isn't very good (but i would blame the filmmaker and the film before the three leads). I will think twice before I judge what I have not seen.

  • Jonas | April 21, 2014 1:39 PMReply

    You're spot on with Brody - He hasn't been good since he was in In the Land of Women, if that should tell you something.
    Based on your review I think I will wait to see this until it comes out on dvd or something.

  • ANONYC | April 21, 2014 1:03 PMReply

    Sorry reviewer dude, you don't get it. Being a 29 yr old, gay woman with a straight, female, best friend, I can say this movie captured a female BFF relationship wonderfully. To imply that the obvious sub-plot is something romantic between the two woman is ignorant and lame. Do you know what BFF stands for bro?

  • RATIONAL | April 21, 2014 11:13 AMReply

    'Brody remains an excessively superficial screen personality who has become kryptonite to small indies. If you're wondering if he can bring humanity to this character, clearly you've never seen a movie that Brody has ruined, which is to say you may never have seen a movie with Adam Brody.'

    I thought this was a review of the movie 'Life Partners' but seems more like an attack on Adam Brody. Why is Gabe Toro still working for The Playlist? There is a MAJOR difference between reviewing films & blogging about celebrities...
    Maybe you should try working for Perez Hilton, Gabe?

  • MovieBuff76 | April 21, 2014 10:48 AMReply

    Weird. I saw this movie in the theatre and thought it was amazing. From the laughter and cheers around me, I think you may be alone in your hostile opinion, Gabe. It sounds like maybe you have some unresolved issues with Adam Brody. Might do you some good to re-watch the film and actually get the point... that, or go to therapy.

  • Laura Pérez | April 20, 2014 11:03 PMReply

    Hello, I'm searching for this movie, and it's been difficult to find. I could use any help, thanks!

  • Kate atkinson | April 20, 2014 9:31 AMReply

    what a completely unwarranted attack on adam brody. I mean, "which is to say you may never have seen a movie with Adam Brody. " ??? god, how obnoxious can you get? he is a brilliant actor. i hope the cosmopolitans with whit stillman gets a full series. it's always a pleasure to watch adam brody.

  • Damnamine | April 20, 2014 7:47 AMReply

    And remember everyone, if you're favorite movie is a Coen Brothers film, that means you have to stop quoting Talladega Nights.

  • cgg | April 19, 2014 9:34 PMReply

    There are two types of intolerable people: Gabe Toro and Gabe Toro.

    Why, o, WHY! Is he back!?!?!

  • TEEJAY | April 19, 2014 9:30 PMReply

    if adam brody was this bad then why is someone like whit stillman praises him high, playlist wanna please someone who now hates adam, the review of the movie is clearly a personal attack on adam, its okay you did not liked adam in this but saying this about a movie is childish and immature .

  • NewYorker | April 19, 2014 7:53 PMReply

    hope to see it in theaters. im a huge Leighton Meester fan.

  • Mai | April 19, 2014 7:44 PMReply

    You think a lesbian falling for her straight friend is a "rich subplot"? Okay....

  • anonymous | April 20, 2014 12:46 PM

    "You think a lesbian falling for her straight friend is a "rich subplot"? Okay...."

    Its a pretty cliché subplot.

  • me | April 19, 2014 7:37 PMReply

    Yup, saw it. It sucks.

  • Kokiam | April 19, 2014 6:33 PMReply

    this review sucks... its very judgemental in a way that it only judges the surface.

  • alabamawoorley | April 19, 2014 6:17 PMReply

    totally fine to not like a movie, everyone has their opinions, but this sounds like the reviewer just hates adam brody and let that dictate how he felt about the entire movie. the movie so not saying any of those things, I don't even know what to make of this review and am kind of offended by it - who are you guys hiring these days?!

  • Laurie | April 19, 2014 4:43 PMReply

    ....Did we see the same movie? This review is very bizarre.

  • Kara | April 26, 2014 11:36 PM

    No, this movie is garbage. Full of crap lesbian cliche. Wait, just cliche across the board. It's horribly written.

  • alyssa | April 19, 2014 4:41 PMReply

    Woah talk about a movie going completely over your head....

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