If you lament comedies without much actual humour, the ones that feel algorithmically tested rather than actually written – a product of the comedy being relegated from its previously dominant spot at multiplexes to mostly quiet streaming releases – then Pretend Partners, an 18-minute independent short, is good tonic.
The film is written by and stars Ron Najor and Kristin Erickson as two single acquaintances who lament that they never get invited to get-togethers with their friends because the events are usually reserved for couples. Despite not being into each other, they devise a plan: pretend to date so that they are included in these events, and no longer have to spent Friday nights alone.
As one of them puts it when pitching the idea: it’s like having your cake and eating it too…“and not gaining any weight”.
This is the kind of set-up frequently seen in the romantic comedy genre, but no matter how good the set-up, the genre relies on the chemistry and humour of its leading couple to keep the film afloat. Pretend Partners has that in spades. It’s clear from the get-go that Najor and Erickson have worked on this script and these characters together from the ground up.
They have terrific chemistry. Their flowing dialogue and the general way they interact with one another feels incredibly realistic, a rarity in the genre. There are no stagey jokes here, and the film feels borne out of the improvisational mumblecore genre rather than anything from Hollywood. It feels like real work has been put into making the script funny but relatable and down-to-earth.
Similar to recent films such as Saint Frances and Straight Up, there also seems to be an inherently deeper connection between actor and character when they’ve been formed and then performed by the writers themselves.
Inhabiting a character’s headspace from conception often seems to lead to a deeper connection to the person they’ve created, as they’ve been with them since their formation, rather than adopting them from another writer when given the script. That connection is clear here, as both lead characters feel fully formed and layered, even within the brief runtime.
Naturally, much of the film becomes about the fake couple navigating the lie within their circle of friends. They obviously don’t share the enthusiasm for each other that the real couples do for their significant other, so they have to fake it. They have to seem in love when really they just want to be included. And they have to be careful not to be seen actually dating anyone else.
Even within a casual, mostly laid back short, the film still manages to comment on interesting topics such as monogamy and the performative nature of relationships during its runtime.
The premise clearly has more mileage in it. Not every short needs, or even wants, to be expanded into a feature length film. But if Najor and Erickson announced that they were expanding Pretend Partners into a 90-minute feature, it should be met with cheers. They clearly have enough talent and wit to pull it off, and its down-to-earth, likeable characters would be a breath of fresh air within the genre.
Najor also directs the film, which alongside he and Erickson also stars Kandis Fay and Dan J. Johnson. It’s currently streaming online at SXSW.