Drinking Buddies Directed by: Joe Swanberg Cast: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston, Ti West Running Time: 1 hr 30 mins Rating: R Release Date: August 16, 2013 (Chicago)
PLOT: Kate (Wilde) and Luke (Johnson) are close friends who work in a brewery company together. They have their own type of chemistry despite the waning relationships they have with their partners, Luke (Livingston) and Jill (Kendrick).
WHO'S IT FOR? Looking for a story about relationships that isn't watered down and doesn't feel mass-processed? Want to see Olivia Wilde play a Chicago hipster? Give Drinking Buddies a try.
Arguing that the idea of friendship involves some type of attraction for its very basis, Rashida Jones once spoketh to me: "There’s attraction on some level. It’s intellectual, emotional, physical - you’re going to be attracted to that person. Most of the time those things manifest physically, because we’re human. At some point, you're going to think about making out, or having sex, or seeing them naked, but you're like, 'I'd rather have them as a friend.'"
With Drinking Buddies, rising writer/director Joe Swanberg has essentially made a cinematic journal entry about this challenging element in companionship. He has done so with a film that has a romantic nature to it, not just about beer, or about the balance of friendship, but about the idea of storytelling's honesty itself. Drinking Buddies is a little end-of-summertime present that lives outside of the movie world vacuum; it doesn't provide escapism for viewers, but thorough reality.
Like last week's magical pairing of Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch in David Gordon Green's Prince Avalanche, Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson provide a richly natural and romantic version of companionship in Drinking Buddies, something that's a huge and successful element to this film's purpose. They fit here individually, she with her fixed gear bike and Logan Square hipness, he with his frayed Old Style cap and grizzly beard. Together, their combined WonderFriends charisma makes the film's heavy amount of hanging out scenes an inclusive, intimate experience, with gossipy curiosity lingering after their interactions. As they work-flirt, they tease the audience with their own potential, keeping us invested in finely average moments of two human beings making each other laugh, and sharing beer.
Playing opposite to them are Ron Livingston and Anna Kendrick, as the bored dating partners stuck in a rut. A credit to both of their abilities to make white bread memorable, the two are good at being bored, and being boring. This is of course especially in comparison to the excitable exchanges from their partners, who play with the limits of friendship right in front of them.
Those young in terms of relationship experience (an idea Jeff Bayer once shared with me), for example, probably couldn't channel into this movie not just because of its dialogue, but for how it requires a viewer's own experience with certain funky feelings to be fully accessed. That's just how things are with talkie movies like this; you can't appreciate the weirdness in some of these awkward moments without having lived through them. Get out there and live, internet people!
Especially considering the pile of modern romantic comedies that I have been shotgunning the past few weeks (from 13 Going on 30 to The Wedding Planner), Drinking Buddies is particularly crafty with how it avoids the cliches we expect when two pretty people are on-screen sharing what we call in the metaphor-making business "sparks." The two "love interests" aren't so much that as in friend interests, two relatable fictional characters who are bouncing against the bounds of platonic friendship in their own bonding. With that being said, not to spoil this big indie movie but to promote it, there certainly isn't a final scene in the third act in which one character collides into another on their wedding day (to someone else) to change relationship destiny (as is the case actually in both 13 Going on 30 and The Wedding Planner).
As they work with a relatively low-key course of events with obvious dynamics, the chemistry of this quartet keeps this movie lively, especially in its most intimate moments. While comic relief is missed a fair amount during the movie's relatively slow progression, Drinking Buddies readily reveals itself to not be interested in the priority of comedy - it is better cast than it is a collection of funny moments, or even surprising ones. Instead, it puts most of its weight on recreating relatable experiences from questionably platonic relationships. Swanberg's film is a wise procedure of veritable emotional motions.
FINAL SCORE: 6/10