Director/Screenwriter: Joe Swanberg
Weekend trips, office parties, late night conversations, drinking on the job, marriage pressure, biological clocks, holding eye contact a second too long… you know what makes the line between “friends” and “more than friends” really blurry? Beer. Cast: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston (film synopsis from sxsw.com)
WHO’S IT FOR?: Fans of Joe Swanberg will be satisfied but the rest of us might be wishing for more action and less foreplay.
Director Joe Swanberg is trying something a bit more conventional with his latest film, Drinking Buddies. A new visual style, a bigger budget and more popular actors pepper a film that revisits familiar mumblecore conceits in ways that signal a clear change to the mainstream. Unfortunately the flaws that usually derail films of this ilk are present despite entertaining performances that brings both laughs and genuine emotion.
The film is slow and at times tedious, frequently coming back to the same moments again and again showing no real signs of narrative movement. There simply isn't enough story in the bloated 94 minute runtime to justify the length. The main conflict involves the two leads Kate and Luke, played by Wilde and Johnson respectfully, struggling with their obvious feelings for each other that extend beyond just a normal friendship. It's a lot of flirting, eye balling and mischief that amounts to nothing beyond a brief, uneventful moment in time for characters that while likeable don't change all that much. I'm sure this is done on purpose to adhere to the naturalistic and real style Swanberg so often tries to achieve but I can't help but feel that through all the laughs nothing of consequence really happened. To his credit, the director has assembled a great cast of actors who appear eager to sink their teeth into something different. Wilde gets to stretch her range by effectively hitting comedic beats while still battling internal struggles. Johnson is the film's star utilizing his natural charisma to predictably get the big laughs while fighting to figure out what Luke actually wants in life. The chemistry between not just the leads but the entire cast makes for a fun atmosphere that almost makes me think I could find these people down at the local bar on the corner.
Known for his low budget visual style, Swanberg wisely amps up the quality with the result being a vibrant and often beautiful picture that compliments the laid back characters and abundance of alcohol. For the most part everyone seems to be having a good time and for a while I did too. Drinking Buddies is often funny but never becomes as engaging as it needs to be in order to adequately payoff the romantic tension.
FINAL SCORE: 6/10
Tyler Mager currently reviews movies for CollegeMovieReview.com and comics for Gutters and Panels. He's also an aspiring screenwriter and filmmaker based out of Austin, TX. Follow him on twitter @tylermager.