Best friends Sasha (Leighton Meester) and Paige (Gillian Jacobs) show their pride. Photo Credit: Erik Lang.

Best friends Sasha (Leighton Meester) and Paige (Gillian Jacobs) show their pride. Photo Credit: Erik Lang.

Sasha loves Paige and Paige loves Sasha, and Tim loves Paige and now Paige loves Tim too. Sound confusing? Sasha is gay and Paige and Tim are straight, but Sasha and Paige are the BFFs (best female friends) ever seen on screen. No matter how you untangle this trio, this film is a refreshing romantic comedy that has little to do with sex and everything to do with growing up.

A Narrative entry in this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, Life Partners, directed by Susanna Fogel, is a breezy take on the ups and downs of a late 20s co-dependent relationship. Sasha (Leighton Meester) and Paige (Gillian Jacobs) do everything together — they chug-a-lug rose wine while waiting for their face masks to dry and wouldn’t miss an episode of America’s Next Top Model. They even share the same bed on occasion, and even if it’s all sweetly platonic, these two might as well be joined at the hip.

It’s an intimacy one might expect from two sisters close in age without the bickering and one-upmanship siblings so often exhibit. There’s definitely a tender love at work here and the chemistry between the two actresses is easy, relaxed and real.

When Tim (Adam Brody – Meester’s real life husband, who might be best known for his role as Seth Cohen on the teen series The OC) enters the picture, nothing really changes at first. He endures their favorite TV show but when they watch The Big Lebowski together, there’s a definite difference of opinion between our two inseparable friends. While Sasha is playing receptionist at a dead-end real estate agency, her non-existent musical career on hold, Paige’s relationship with Tim is blossoming. As portrayed by Brody, Tim is appealing in a tall, sensitive, gangly kind of way and when he invites her out to dinner, he’s actually made a reservation. Paige is obviously not accustomed to the amenities that await her in a mature relationship, straight or otherwise.

As the relationship between Paige and her newfound boyfriend heats up, Sasha explores the dating scene in her local lesbian community. Abby Elliott, as an easy conquest, does a credible job as Vanessa, a flaky, self-involved playmate — Sasha’s world is, if anything, incestuous and in the blink or wink of an eye, your friend’s ex can be your new flame. Gabourey Sidibe, the Oscar-winning actress known for her role as a troubled teen in Precious, fleshes out the bar scene crowd nicely, not as a potential lover but as a solid sounding board for the rest of the crew. But it’s basically a bit appearance for this character star and we are left wishing Fogel and co-writer Joni Lefkowitz could have made better use of her considerable talents.

One of the redeeming qualities of the film is that it doesn’t highlight Sasha’s day to day comings and goings as a gay woman — she is simply trying to make sense of her life as any reasonably intelligent single woman, fast approaching 30, might do. In this sense, the casting of Meester was an inspired choice. Best known as the character of Blair Waldorf in TV’s popular Gossip Girl, she possesses a lovely, girl-next-door quality which makes it all the easier to relate to her in each and every situation. Our heart goes out to her when she must face Paige’s growing absence from her. “Nothing changed for you, but it changed for me,” she cries to her best friend. “You still have someone to talk to at two in the morning.” Now it’s Paige’s soon-to-be fiancé who fits that bill and no longer Sasha. It’s a touching moment that never grows maudlin. It’s a comedy, after all, and Fogel’s touch on her story is consistently lighthearted, if now and then lightweight.

Fogel also avoids making their lesbian hangout bar a focal point as if to suggest, as many films and TV series about the gay lifestyle have done in the past, a journey into some nether, unfamiliar world for the straight audience. It’s simply one of the places where they meet, gossip and act out their frustrations with one another.

Jacobs’ Paige is impetuous, sometimes controlling, and wide-eyed when it comes to her out-of-the-blue attraction to Tim. She, like Meester, has come from the world of TV series, only skirting the edge of seriousness — in this case, Community. It’s an upbeat, fresh comedy, going into its fifth season, about a tightly-knit group of friends tied to a mediocre college history.

Comedy comes in many colors and Fogel, known for her work as a developer and executive producer on the TV series Chasing Life, leaves a soft imprint throughout her first full-length feature. One vignette features Sasha in her receptionist job. Overqualified as a mail opener, she thumbs through magazines and e-mails until she is caught by one of her superiors. In retaliation, she pretends there’s a short in the buzzer, causing the supervisor to suffer through several abortive attempts at office reentry. This kind of episode is familiar in situation comedy — where it works best — but here it helps to give us a painless exposition about Sasha’s growing frustration in the working world.

Another drawn out setup involves Paige, who hasn’t yet mastered the trick of texting and backing out of her driveway at the same time. This leads to a confrontation with her neighbor — basically a nice Joe (Mark Feuerstein) who wants to settle the dent in his bumper as amicably as possible. But Paige is not about to give in, and when the whole business leads to a lawsuit, it causes a brief eruption between Paige and Tim. It’s a part of the story line that feels a little thin, as if it were plunked down in the middle of an otherwise believable script to put a wedge between our new lovebirds.

One situation that does work very well happens in the first minutes of the story when Sasha and Paige, jammed between the respective steering wheels of their vehicles, break into a robust round of name-calling. It becomes a double setup when the audience discovers these two supposed strangers not only know one another but have staged their own bitchy encounter for their own enjoyment as well. Later in the film, Sasha will wistfully say to her friend, “We’re still the only ones who think we’re funny.”

It seems there’s still room in filmmaking for a bit of froth and sentiment and not always taking ourselves so seriously. We can thank contemporary filmmakers like Fogel for that.

Rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars

Following the film, Susanna Fogel was introduced to the audience, along with her own life partner Joni Lefkowitz. There was a brief interchange between the two about how the story paralleled to some degree their own lives. Fogel is the straight partner and Joni has come out as a lesbian.

Fogel: With two people settled in a healthy co-dependent relationship, it’s still inevitable in the balance that one person is going to be the first to couple up.

On the issue of people transitioning from the 20s to 30s, she mentioned that there was talk about giving Sasha, after she’s fired from her receptionist gig, a job at the end.

Fogel: When we were trying to become writers, we had to have a happy ending. We knew with Sasha we wanted to take that middle step. We don’t totally know what’s next for her.

As for the question as to whether the two leads were familiar with each other before, she admitted that they didn’t know each other before the filming.

Fogel: It’s sort of like matchmaking. We’d known Gillian (Paige) before, then we met Leighton (Sasha) and we expected they’d like each other. It’s all the stuff that happens between the dialogues that’s real.

Fogel also described her experience of knowing her partner’s gay friends. “We’d see lesbians coming out later in life, and dealing in that context with ridiculous people.” She went on to describe what might be considered a certain immaturity on Sasha’s part, how dating in that environment could be a few years behind in that respect. The political environment around the filming was briefly discussed as well.

Fogel: The day we began shooting, DOMA (The Defense of Marriage Act) was overturned. There was some ambivalence about the storyline. [In the script, plans advance for Paige’s marriage to Tim and Sasha offers to be “the best man” and wear a powder blue tuxedo.]

After the premiere audience viewing, it was obvious that the majority of those in attendance found the film, if not out and out side-splitting, amusing and endearing.

Video Courtesy of WeLiveFilmFestivals.

Video Courtesy of The Daily Quirk.

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