What is first to be realized about Drinking Buddies, the most recent work from prolific indie director, writer and actor, Joe Swanberg, is that, aside from the copious amounts of beer consumed during the film’s run time, it refuses to fall into the usual romantic comedy cliches that would have probably doomed it. Another thing to notice is that Olivia Wilde gives a nicely rounded performance, in a simple and pleasant little film that has chick flick aspirations, but thankfully never reaches them. The film also benefits from the many things not said, meaning that Swanberg trusts his actors enough to have them reflect how things often are in that couples at all stages of their relationships often don’t communicate well. And the elephants or gorillas or whatever animal-sized issues that remain unresolved between them follow them to bed or to work or to the scuffle in the street into which they get.
The story centers on two best friends, Kate (Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson), who work at the same beer brewery and spend their days joking with each other and drinking beer, both at work and at play. Like, lots of beer. Seems like every other scene with them features a pint. One can instantly see they’ve never been simultaneously horizontal (not counting times being passed out), because they still enjoy each other’s company. Plus, Luke has been in a relationship for six years with Jill (Anna Kendrick), and Kate for eight months with Chris (Ron Livingston). But it’s not like opportunities haven’t presented themselves. Prime opportunities are dangled throughout the film until a fateful couple of decisions are made, and the sexual tension is thicker than a vat of fermented hops. Informing as to how things go on that front would be telling, but the rest of the film, and the various relationships in it are directly affected, and not always in good ways.
Swanberg, who has half the credits on this thing, including writer, puts together a realistic project populated with realistic characters. Scenes, especially group scenes, often have a disjointed feeling because, hey, life is disjointed, and rarely fits into clean cut conversations. The actors get this notion and embrace it. A lot of the dialogue that takes place just has an air of believability and empathy to them, something that Swanberg does well here. He also nicely eschews many of the played out romcom pitfalls, although he does have a few familiar situations, such as the two couples going away for the weekend and some infidelity and temptation of same occurring.
Needless to say, one relationship doesn’t survive (spoiler alert, the movie’s trailer totally ruins the mystery on that), and both Luke and Kate find their friendship being tested down the line as a result. What I especially like is that Kate, when she’s having difficulty, doesn’t have a stable of girlfriends to which to go running off. She and Jill don’t find a commonality of female bonding or anything of the like. What makes things difficult for Kate is that the guy she normally relies on for support – namely Jake – is the one with whom she has the problems. Wilde is great here. Her Kate is very much a regular girl with bona fide vulnerabilities and frailties but also resolve; and she and Johnson have nice rapport. Kendrick and Livingston, who brings a just-ever-so-slight atmosphere of unwarranted douchebaggery is also good as usual.
Drinking Buddies‘ has a palpable sense of genuineness to it, and it doesn’t rely on a whole lot, other than the work of its four main characters, particularly Wilde and Johnson, and a minimalist, almost cinema verite quality to Swanberg’s filmmaking. Plus it has plenty of beer. What’s not to like?
It’s available now on iTunes and On Demand and in theatres on August 23.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars