Taglines: One guy can ruin the perfect relationship.
At 29, the most long-term relationship Sasha (Leighton Meester) and Paige (Gillian Jacobs) have ever been in is with each other, using their co-dependent friendship as an excuse not to venture out into the dating world alone. But when Paige meets nerdy Tim (Adam Brody) and starts to get serious for the first time, the nature of their friendship begins to shift. Fearing she’s being cast aside, Sasha tries to keep their relationship the same, but does growing up also mean growing apart?
Life Partners is an American comedy film directed by Susanna Fogel and co-written with Joni Lefkowitz. It is Fogel’s feature film directorial debut. The film stars Leighton Meester, Gillian Jacobs, Adam Brody, Greer Grammer, Gabourey Sidibe, and Julie White. The film premiered on April 18, 2014 at the Tribeca Film Festival in the Spotlight section. The film was released on November 6, 2014 on demand platforms, and in select theaters on December 5, 2014.
Set in Minneapolis, Minnesota, principal photography began in April 2013 and lasted 19 days. The film was primarily shot in Glendale, California and Eagle Rock, Los Angeles. Some scenes were shot at Griffith Park and at Long Beach, California during the Long Beach Lesbian & Gay Pride. Other scenes were also filmed in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Minneapolis skyline and a few Minneapolis landmarks are also shown in the film.
We’ve all had a best friend. Especially for women, this relationship is as intense as any romantic partnership we will ever have. She’s the person we share our innermost fears with, the person who drives us to the emergency room, the person we bring as our date to weddings. Particularly nowadays, when people are encouraged to take their time in committing romantically, these quasi-marital friendships can last well into our 20s if not 30s, and are a huge part of the Zeitgeist.
It’s surprising, then, how rarely these friendships are accurately portrayed in American films. In mainstream romantic comedies, we’re treated to the “comic relief sidekick” friend who is unflaggingly supportive of the movie’s protagonist (and overly interested in her love life). And we’ve seen the onscreen frenemy who will stop at nothing to sabotage her “best friend” through broad set pieces that sometimes literally involve hair-pulling. But what about that person you love more than anyone in the world…but still talk about behind her back and find yourself subtly one-upping when you’re feeling insecure?
That person you love so much that it kills you to see her making mistakes and why doesn’t she just listen to you when you tell her how to fix her life? That person who drives you so crazy with her passive-aggressive crap that when you complain about it to the guy you’re dating, he can’t help but ask why you’re still friends with her because he just doesn’t get it? It’s that friendship my cowriter Joni and I set out to study with this film, in the tradition of films like Nicole Holofcener’s Walking and Talking that are unparalleled in their realism about female friendship and its absurd amazingness.
Just as we believe there’s a dearth of honest films about female friendships, we also feel a need for films about gays and lesbians having relatable experiences in a diverse world. Joni and I identify differently (she’s gay, I’m straight) and we wanted to represent her community without focusing a narrative on “coming out” or emphasizing the politics of her sexuality in a way that would make the film niche. On the contrary, we wanted to universalize it. Not only did we want to show a platonic gay-straight friendship where neither character is romantically interested in the other, but in executing the script as a director, I strived for accessibility.
In casting, I sought actresses who were widely known and broadly appealing to play lesbians, like Leighton Meester who lends so much credibility, nuance and heart to a role that could not be further from her role on GOSSIP GIRL. As for her straight counterpart, I tried to avoid the plight of the generic romantic comedy heroine by casting Gillian Jacobs, an actress known for her quirky personality and cult comedy fanbase.
As far as my aesthetic approach to directing this film, I aimed for a combination of real and slightly elevated. I’ve always admired directors like Cameron Crowe who combine naturalistic writing and performances with a real sense of style that lends an element of wish fulfillment, fun and entertainment. With this in mind, I tried to encourage moments of spontaneity and raw emotion, while still delivering the scripted comedy and avoiding an overly improvisational or haphazard feel. I approached production design, costume and music with this same philosophy in mind, always aiming for a combination of real and slightly elevated.
With all that said, my hope with LIFE PARTNERS is to deliver a female friendship comedy that resonates and entertains, hitting that sweet spot between a “film” and a “movie” as it explores the universal theme of friendship…along with some related themes (sexuality, women at the center of their own narrative, to name two) that deserve more of a spotlight.
“Leighton especially was really fun to transform from this gossip girl to someone who was representative of the lesbian community and who wasn’t passing as a lipstick lesbian. She doesn’t have a lot of money, she is thrift shopping her stuff or is inheriting it from different people or had it since college and I think making that evident was incredibly important, so we did that. Everything she wears is from a thrift shop or borrowed – it was a beg borrow and steal kind of movie.”
“Your mid to late 20s are such a hard time to dress yourself because you don’t have the money to be the professional you want to be but you need to look professional and that’s something PAIGE has really nailed that SASHA hasn’t figured out. PAIGE is really reveling in being this young lawyer on a career path, and even in her casual wear, you see that.”
The rest of the team came together quickly but efficiently and in April 2013, the 19-day shoot began. Set in Minneapolis, LIFE PARTNERS was shot entirely on the east side of LA, primarily in Glendale and Eagle Rock.
The strong relationship between Leftowitz, Fogel and Mollick extended to their cast and crew, their relaxed professionalism creating a sense of ease and comfort for anyone on set. Fogel’s supportive and good-natured attitude as a director proved incredibly impactful. Meester elaborates, “She’s really ahead of what a lot of people are capable of at her age and especially for somebody who is directing their first feature, I’ve never seen someone be so humble and confident, creative, in tune, and collaborative.” Jacobs adds, “It’s one of the calmest sets I’ve ever been on and for a first time director, that’s really an accomplishment. Everyone seems happy to be at work every day and everything went smoothly. I’ve worked on a lot of movies this size where that is not the case and I think Susanna sets the tone, so it’s been really great.”
Even when Meester & Jacobs had an evening shoot in an unheated pool, playful shrieking and humming the Super Mario Brothers theme took the place of any potential complaining. Their immediate bond didn’t go unnoticed.
“With this the friendship connection between the girls is so important, you’re kind of just taking a gamble,” says Fogel. “You have meetings with each one and if you feel like they would like each other, you just roll the dice on that, but we’re glad they ended up really clicking and becoming friends.” Lefkowitz continues, “I’m sure by the last day they were speaking another language. On day one, everyone was a little nervous and tense but seriously, by day two, they were humping each other before every take, we were like ‘WHAT is happening?’ – we’re just so lucky we found two people with such an odd sense of humor, like Gillian would come to set in a tree costume and they would make crazy videos, they just thought the same weird things were funny and made the same weird voices when they would rehearse their scenes. They related to each other in that weird way and that’s just luck that they were both the same brand of abnormal.”
Jacobs adds, “This movie is all about our friendship and you don’t really know when you meet each other what you’re actually like and turns out she’s a freak like me, so it’s been awesome…we both realized we were goofy weirdoes early on. It’s fun to have someone like that, where you can be as weird as you want to be. The whole crew was kind of like that on this film so it was a fun, silly environment for us.”
The last day of shooting, which took place at Griffith Park, production bought a food truck for the crew and Brody brought in more cupcakes from his favorite bakery than a small independent film crew could possibly eat. It is worth noting not a cast or crew member was absent at the wrap party where karaoke was involved and shirts featuring an inside joke from set printed on the front were disseminated among the group.
Heading towards the film’s festival run, Fogel & Lefkowitz ruminate on how far they have come. “There’s so much that we reflect on and write about that comes from our friendship and how much we’ve changed over the years,” says Fogel. “We always mine our own lives and experiences for stories, but when we met we were both so different. Joni wasn’t out of the closet yet and I was a weird insecure pretentious indie rock person. We evolved into grownups together and we will continue to do that over the next few decades. Having met right after college and now being in our 30s and making this big leap to this next phase of our careers is exciting to do together.”
Directed by: Susanna Fogel
Starring: Leighton Meester, Gillian Jacobs. Adam Brody, Mark Feuerstein, Julie White, Abby Elliot, Greer Grammer, Kate McKinnon, Beth Dover, Gabourey Sidibe
Screenplay by: Susanna Fogel, Joni Lefkowitz
Production Design by: Matt Luem
Cinematography by: Brian Burgoyne
Film Editing by: Kiran Pallegadda
Costume Design by: Courtney Hoffman
Set Decoration by: Danielle Laubach
Art Direction by: Nicolas Kelley
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual content.
Studio; Magnolia Pictures
Release Date: December 5, 2014