Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Directed by: Joe Swanberg
Starring: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston
Starting with the already charming premise of a romantic comedy set in the world of craft beer brewing in Chicago, director and writer Joe Swanberg is already onto a winner. That he has managed to follow through with a mature yet warm and humorous film is testament to his growing reputation.
Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) work together at the brewery and are quite clearly attracted to each other. However, they are both in relationships, Kate with Chris (Ron Livingston) and Luke with his long-term partner Jill (Anna Kendrick). Following a double-date weekend at Chris’ cabin, they both begin to reassess their relationships and what they want from life.
The real driving force in Drinking Buddies is the strength of the relationships built between the main characters. Kate and Luke have a wonderful rapport that feels like you are watching two friends hanging out. There is an improvisational feel as they riff off each other, finish sentences and burst into laughter halfway through anecdotes. It is a tribute to the performances of Wilde and Johnson that there are very few moments that break the illusion of reality.
Care is also given to their partners who are not merely thrown in as plot devices or talking parts of the set. Where too often, partners are either bland or obnoxious, Chris and Jill are rounded and likeable characters in their own right. It’s easy to see why someone would want to be in a relationship with either of them, even if Kate does not seem an ideal partner for Chris. Kendrick in particular is given the space to develop a quirky yet charming persona with Jill’s love of model making, and dedication to preparation highlighted.
Swanberg plays tantalisingly with a more straightforward Hollywood conclusion, offering up a solution that a lesser film would grasp at before withdrawing. Instead, he opts for a volte-face, expanding Luke and Jill’s relationship as well as the on-going interactions between the two co-workers. Much of the final act focusses on the challenges of keeping a long-term relationship together when temporary temptation beckons. All of this unfolds amidst an unhealthy degree of drinking and a regular dose of playful, yet occasionally biting, humour.
As is sometimes the way with the Mumblecore movement of which Swanberg is a part, the lo-fi style it evokes can sometimes be overdone. There is never a sense of urgency at any point of the film. This mostly works given that it’s a character driven piece, but there are times when it strays dangerously into irrelevance. The weakest moments come nearer the end when Luke more actively seeks to pursue Kate. It’s half-hearted, lacking the tension required from such a pivotal moment in their friendship.
For the most part though, this is an unobtrusively shot, carefully paced glimpse at human relationships. Drinking Buddies doesn’t strive to change the world or blow you away with spectacle. Instead, it aims to develop and explore complex relationships between real people. By the time it ends, you’ll feel like you’ve just spent a couple of hours in the pub with your friends meaning this minor key delight hits its target dead centre.