[Milwaukee Film Festival] Ally’s “Partners” Gets It Right in Seven

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Partners, a film showing as part of the Milwaukee Film Fest shorts package “Date Night,” was a pleasant surprise for me.

While I have no particular prejudice against short films, I haven’t often met with shorts that produce a full, satisfying experience. This one defied my expectations. Partners was also a surprise because my interpretation of the description in the festival guide caused me to believe it was going to be entirely serious in an expected, plodding way. The opposite turned out to be true.

Partners is about a couple, two women who own their own business together and have a less-than-satisfactory sex life (for one of them, at least) along with plenty of accrued relationship residue.

For the approximately seven minutes of the film, they argue, moving from good-natured bickering to resentful dredging to habitual but touching tenderness. Obviously well-seasoned in re-hashing their usual points of disagreement, they tread lightly over already-trodden territory, always hanging on to a sweet and comedic edge that seems apparent not only to the audience, but to the characters themselves. In this way, Partners shares some comedic and romantic features with the Korean film Right Now, Wrong Then, another of my favorites from this festival.

What most impressed me about Partners is simply that it shows a self-aware couple arguing without dissolving into tears and bitter recriminations or giving over to total comedy. Not only is the former a clichéd cheap thrust at “reality,” but I’m sometimes afraid that overblown scenes in movies, aiming at a semblance of substance, wind up painting a “false” picture of real life that people then unconsciously attempt to imitate in their own relationships.

I’m not saying that filmmakers should be held responsible for their viewers’ love lives, or that partners don’t really have horrible fights sometimes. But when you make a film about a relationship, especially a short film, it’s worth asking what part of the relationship you want this small frame to go around: What’s most interesting? Most worth spending time on? What would people most want to watch?

In this case, I think director Joey Ally got it just about perfect. Partners is a simple film, and not even deceptively so, but it succeeds precisely for not trying to cram more drama into a short period of time than an audience can absorb. Because it doesn’t overreach itself (the fatal flaw of so many shorts), it’s able to concentrate on bringing out as much nuance as a well-done, full-length feature.

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