Review: Drinking Buddies

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Written, directed and edited by Joe Swanberg
Starring; Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston
Rating: 4 out of 5 beers. This film starts off slow, but once you get used to the rhythm and get to know these very human and mostly likable characters, this film becomes an honest and unpretentious indie gem of observational comedy that also functions on a somewhat deeper level as an intimate, realistic exercise in the often clumsy crossover between platonic and romantic relationships.

This film centers upon two best friends, Luke and Kate, played by Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde, who work together at a craft brewery in Chicago. Their friendly flirtations are packed with so much chemistry but also a great deal of authenticity, their parts played with naturalism and humanism and playfulness– the film never feels like a trite or quirky indie filled with unattainable projections of hip, cool people as they relate to each other in equally quirky ways.

Plus, as enjoyable as their chemistry is to witness, they almost seem better off as friends as the film escalates, which I’ll come back to in a moment. Both are in relationships that do, at first anyway, seem ill-matched, somehow. This makes the double date weekend outing to a summer cabin that much more rife with tension and awkwardness and comedic timing, all based delicately on manners and unintentional couple swapping, and all pieced together with Swanberg’s careful and clever editing.

The film, from there, becomes a complex character study that is presented in a refreshingly simple way. Kate’s casual boyfriend, whose house this outing was held at and who is played by Ron Livingston, breaks up with her, while Jill, Luke’s long time serious girlfriend years played by Anna Kendrick, is bringing up the question of marriage again. Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde particularly shine through these scenarios, not only in scenes with each other I mean but individually, they give possibly the best performances I’ve ever seen from them.

As their friendship grows more apparently complicated, I became more convinced, as I said, that they were too similar and too close to truly be meant for something more than just friendship. The film, like life, makes us question that possibility, and these characters are clearly questioning it too. But Kate is perhaps too self-destructive and carefree while Luke, who is nurturing and over protective like a brother to her but touchy feely like a significant other to her, does seem genuinely in love with Jill the more we see them interact. So, I think Swanberg really captures these human beings as genuinely as they could be captured, his camera work is fluid and unassuming, and the improvisation among the actors helps achieve the overall tone as well.

I was surprised that the film doesn’t ever devolve into typical Hollywood romance conventions and I loved that about it. I really appreciated the trajectory of these people’s lives as they form webs and tangles with and around each other in a way that is entertaining still but seems accurate too. I also appreciated that, likewise, the film never seeks to untangle those webs; the end is subtle and ambiguous, but still perfectly appropriate.

This film is funny and, in a sense, humble. By the end, I too wanted to have a beer with each of them because I felt that I knew them and their relationships so well, and they each seemed so real. As a result of that though, the film gives us the feeling that we really have just had a beer with them already, or at least that we can have a beer with people like them.

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4 thoughts on “Review: Drinking Buddies

  1. I just caught this last night and was quite surprised by it. I agree with you about it not following the usual tropes of the rom com genre. It was cool seeing a movie where no one was being portrayed as the bad guy. Ron Livingston’s character cold have easily been written as the jerk boyfriend, but it doesn’t go into that. Liked all the characters in this. Good Review

    • Thanks so much! I was surprised too, I’m not sure I was expecting what it ended up being but that’s what made it so fun and refreshing. I definitely agree about Ron Livingston’s character, none of the characters felt like they were written to be something unrealistic or archetypal and the cast really embodied them honestly too. Thanks again for reading and commenting!

  2. This was one of my favorites from last year so I get so excited whenever I read a positive review. It’s funny because Joe Swanberg retweets people’s reactions to the movie a lot (most of them negative or at least confused about it). So many people really wanted a more standard rom com outcome, which so surprises me. I am much more in your camp thinking it ended the way it should.

    • I love Joe Swanberg, I think his very raw and realistic approach to the rom com formula was so refreshing– I definitely thought it’d be a couple-swapping type story, so for it to feel as intimate and honest as it did was very cool to me too, I’m glad to hear that you agree!

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