Dec 05

“Life Partners”: Close Friendship Between Women Is Tested

Diane Anderson Minshall, The Advocate, explains that real-life friends Susanna Fogel and Joni Lefkowitz are the inspiration for the new film Life Partners, a story about late-twenty-somethings. They wrote it, in fact.

The plot: Straight environmental lawyer Paige (Gillian Jacobs) is besties with lesbian receptionist/musician Sasha (Leighton Meester). Adam Brody plays dermatologist Tim, who becomes Paige’s boyfriend, a development that tests the women’s friendship.

The trailer’s below:

Sexual orientation labels and issues apparently aren’t a big deal in this movie. “In the same way that a lack of a prejudice can be invisible until noted, this subtext is played out so subtly on-screen that one could easily not realize it’s there,” states Minshall.

Abhimanyu Das, Slant, further explains: “In reality, the romantic elements are secondary to what is essentially an astute and cleverly written dissection of a co-dependent friendship being gradually eroded by the incremental ravages of age, rivalry, and rapidly diverging personal arcs.”

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.

However, not all critics are particularly fond of how the story develops—as well as some of those supporting characters. Gabe Toro (Indiewire):

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…

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.

Paige and Sasha

Abhimanyu Das, Slant: “The film’s frankness about the things friends sometimes do to one another (or fail to do for one another), and its steadfast stance on where the line should be drawn in terms of self-sacrifice within a friendship, set it apart from similarly themed contemporaries.”

Scott Tobias, The Dissolve: “It’s especially difficult in this case because they’ve gotten so far into their 20s without anything changing, and because to Sasha, what Paige is doing looks like a sellout to hetero conventionality. They finally go toe-to-toe on these issues—and on Paige’s controlling nature—but Life Partners more often wanders into side business…”

Selected Reviews of Life Partners

Claudia Puig, USA Today: “The charming story about millennial confusion is deftly written by Susanna Fogel (who also directs) and Joni Lefkowitz, and the dialog actually sounds like the way a pair of smart and funny twentysomethings might really talk.”

Inkoo Kang, The Wrap: “A waxen falseness suffuses the stilted, stubbornly generic picture. 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.”

Abhimanyu Das, Slant: “Its relatability is, ultimately, the key component of its success. As such, the experiences portrayed here are familiar to anyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, who’s ever been abandoned by an old friend…”

Oct 28

“Morning”: Leland Orser’s Film About Couple’s Loss of Child

Written by Leland Orser, the film Morning is apparently a downer. But then so is intense grief—and that’s what it’s about (Morning/Mourning?).

The plot, from IMDB: “Five days in the life of an American couple immediately following the accidental death of their child. An every day story of tragedy, loss, acceptance, hope and renewal. ‘Morning’ follows the divergent paths of Mark (Leland Orser) and Alice Munroe (Jeanne Tripplehorn) as they circle each other in a heart-breaking pas-de-deux of grief before finally coming to grips with their shared loss.”

Rex Reed, New York Observer, sets up the story structure of Morning:

Told in four separate sections that begin with an alarm clock’s brutal ring at 6:30 a.m., the film’s chapters are connected by the same ritual: An elderly, lame, but loyal housekeeper makes a long trip by bus to an elegant home in Los Angeles and can’t get in…And, each day, the housekeeper returns, ready for work, dutifully trying to ease her employers’ grief, stacking their unread newspapers in a neat pile on the porch and sliding the unopened mail into the mail slot, feeling helpless. Finally, she sits down on the steps and lights a candle, sharing sorrow and loss in her own quiet way—without speaking a single line of dialogue.

Tripplehorn, by the way, is also Orser’s spouse in real life. Watch the Morning trailer:

The Character of Mark Munroe

Rex ReedNew York Observer: “Mr. Orser, the excellent actor from the cast of E.R., plays Mark, the husband who locks himself in his bedroom, chews sleeping pills and pain killers like mints and crawls around on the kitchen floor in his underwear eating Fruit Loops, ignoring the phone and the doorbell.”

Stephen HoldenNew York Times: “Mark hardly speaks, preferring to drink, take pills by the handful and vent his anguish by piling up vases of flowers in the center of the living room and demolishing them with a golf club.”

Alice Munroe

Rex ReedNew York Observer: “Alice, the wife (played by the luminous, graceful Jeanne Tripplehorn), checks into an antiseptic, impersonal hotel room and wanders aimlessly around one of those blindingly over-lit California malls buying children’s clothes and leaving them behind in shopping bags. She drives through traffic with the windows in her station wagon rolled up, screaming.”

The Grief Counselor (played by Laura Linney)

David LewisSan Francisco Chronicle: “During their riveting scene together, no life-changing advice is rendered, and Alice struggles to make any sense. The conversation is basically nothing – and everything.”

Mary, the Friend

Stephen HoldenNew York Times: “The most words spoken by any character belong to Alice’s best friend, Mary (Julie White), whose well-meaning advice offered in a tone of forced cheer, drives Alice to scream in frustration.”

The Housekeeper

Sara Stewart, New York Post: “…(N)one [of the rest of the cast] gets as much screen time as their elderly housekeeper (Gina Morelli) as she plods to and from the house every day. I found her weariness contagious.”

Selected Reviews

David LewisSan Francisco Chronicle: “On the surface, this may seem like a bleak film, because it’s so raw. But ultimately this is a movie about the mysterious ways in which we find a path toward healing, and its beautiful final moments stay with you.”

Joe LeydonVariety: “…an initially intriguing but ultimately exhausting tale of grieving parents left quite literally dazed and confused in the wake of their young son’s death.”

Stephen HoldenNew York Times: “…one of the more harrowing explorations of grief ever brought to the screen. By the end of its 95 minutes, only a faint ray of light has penetrated the gloom.”