TL;DR: Changing Partners successfully transitions from the stage to the big screen, keeping its clever concept & wounded, beating heart intact.
Changing Partners tells the story of Alex & Cris. Alex is a middle-aged, ambitious, hardworking manager, while Cris is young, unemployed, & ambitious, who is trying to figure out what to do in life in between working through part-time jobs & side jobs. Both of them are in a loving May-December relationship & cohabitating, with Cris taking care of the house & Alex supporting both of them financially. It’s not a perfect union, though. Alex is jealous of Cris’ close friendship with Angel, while Cris can’t stand how controlling Alex is. Their problems slowly boil until it becomes inescapable.
However, this story isn’t told as plainly as possible. Based from a stage musical of the same name that had its successful run in the PETA Theater Center, Alex are both played by Agot Isidro & Jojit Lorenzo, & Cris are both played by Anna Luna & Sandino Martin, with Alex & Cris partnered with different performers in four different ways based on their gender: a cishet female Alex & a cishet male Cris, a cishet male Alex & a cishet female Cris, a cis gay Alex & a cis gay Cris, & a cis lesbian Alex & a cis lesbian Cris.
It’s a complicated conceit, & thankfully the movie slowly eases the audience in to avoid confusion, but once it does, it becomes a fascinating way to show how universal love is, & how their age & gender reveals the different power dynamics their relationship has & how it affects them. Alex & Cris clearly love & strengthen each other, but they have issues they need to address, which is often muddled by the age gap between them.
It helps that the transition from the stage to the big screen is seamless. The theatrical version has found a clever way to show the shift in perspectives – some of which you can view here – it feels much more at home in a movie, where a simple shot reverse shot could instantly change which couple we’re watching. The entirety of the whole movie is set in the confines of Alex’s house, yet it’s never claustrophobic. The camera follows their ordinary lives simply & unobtrusively, making it alive & grounded at the same time. The songs match the material’s tone, opting for a naturalistic lyrics & singing that makes it easier for their emotions to come across.
The main quartet of performers are the same people who acted in the stage version, & not only does it make the movie the easiest way to view the musical for those of us who missed out on its original run, but the actors already mastered the material. It really shows, with each of the actors & actresses delivering strong performances. The performances for each role are consistent as well, so it isn’t jarring when the movie shifts from one couple to another. Jojit Alonzo & Agot Isidro both show Alex’s jealousy & aggressive behavior without making them offputting, & Anna Luna & Sandino Martin reveal how lost Cris is in the relationship without making them pathetic. All of them display the flaws of two people who were never on the same footing in the first place.
Changing Partners reveals the universal truth that love has no boundaries. In the process of doing so, it shows the same can be said for heartbreak. Demonstrating this truth by using an ingenious conceit makes it easier to unveil its sincere, wounded heart.