Judy (Todd Flaherty) is a gay man in his early thirties, living in New York City and working its drag show circuit. He has everything he could possibly want — a decent place to live with his friend Jessica (Nicole Spiezio), access to nightlife and hookups, and a co-dependent platonic partner, Chrissy (Wyatt Fenner). The two perform together as Chrissy and Judy, fabulously embodying their characters while enthusiastically belting old tunes to indifferent bar patrons. While on the road, they share a bed. They say “I love you.” The two made a marriage pact in their twenties: If not otherwise engaged by their thirties, they’d get married. Chrissy sometimes sheepishly brings up the idea, but Judy brushes it off: In their twenties, 30 sounded old. But now 40 feels more appropriate. Growing up is hard, and growing up together is harder. Chrissy and Judy is a wonderfully told version of a tale as old as romance itself, with stellar performances, a gorgeous visual palette and an authentic focus on the messier side of the break-up.

Flaherty wrote, directed and stars in the film, and he keeps it alive with a nuanced performance of a character who could very well be the villain in a tweaked version of the script. Judy is destructively selfish but you can always sympathize with him. We never learn the details of his life, but like many LGTBQIA+ young people, he has issues with her family back home. “Sometimes I think I must be fucked up,” he muses at one point, “because I don’t want a boyfriend. What I want is to be … alone with someone.” That outlook can work if it is mutual, but Judy refuses to understand Chrissy’s needs. When the latter moves to Philadelphia to reconnect with an old boyfriend, Shawn (Kiyon Spencer), all hell breaks loose in Judy’s life.

It’s hard to imagine anyone of any orientation not understanding what it’s like to fall out of a close relationship as Chrissy and Judy do. When it comes to relationship stories about universal experiences, it’s sometimes hard not to say a film follows a fairly predictable path forward. But Flaherty approaches the story with a mature and measured hand, with a script that addresses the complexities of growing up and growing apart with thorough respect. Judy neither grows overnight nor changes according to the prescribed ideals of the traditional romantic drama. This feels like a script written by someone who knows the story all too closely, and that authentic energy gives everything a boost.

On a basic filmmaking level, Flaherty’s choice to film the story in black and white pays dividends, too. It’s a frequently gorgeous film that knows exactly how to frame its characters for maximum impact. From early happy, carefree days on the beach to a midnight meeting on a rock jetty with a lighthouse illuminating their reconciliation, Flaherty always captures both the beauty and the sadness of Chrissy and Judy as this era in their life comes to a close.

Change is hard and love is harder, especially if we’re not ready for them. It’s always thrilling to watch an artist so vividly capture that truth.