Article By: Dan Clark
Director Joe Swanberg’s latest directorial effort Drinking Buddies is a charming little film about the messiness of human relationships. In many ways it reads as a reaction to the artificial interpretation of Hollywood’s current crop of romantic movies. Every cinematic component is stripped down to a barebones state. The music score is nearly absent, the majority of the camerawork is handheld, and a plot never truly comes into play. By removing those aspects it places its characters on the forefront triggering them to come off as actual people and not as characters. Swanberg’s does become beholden to this dedication to realism. The film meanders along with no clear sense of direction. While the unfulfilled sensation it leaves you with is true to life, it does force it to come off as just another thematic investigate. Luckily the main cast glosses over many of the holes Swanberg’s directing leaves behind. Fort those who are sick of the plague of formulaic romantic comedies Drinking Buddies does serve as a suitable cure.
Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde star as Kate and Luke, two freewheeling coworkers who are living life while working at a Chicago brewery. They are constantly chatting it up, whimsically flirting, and enjoying after work trips to the bar. The only issue is they are in relationships with other people. Luke is in a long standing relationship with Jill (Anna Kendrick). Kate is seemingly always in and out of relationships, but her latest one with Chris (Ron Livingston) seemingly has potential. The ‘will they or won’t they’ angle between Kate and Luke is the main crux of the film.—although there is less of a narrative here and more of a simple observation of these character’s lives.
Tonally this shares a lot of similarities with other mumblecore films. Much of the dialog is naturalistic and adlibbed. A lot of the conversations are just general depictions of normal everyday life. For those not a fan of the style this will surely be a drag. If you enjoy movies like The Puffy Chair, Hannah Takes the Stairs, or Your Sister’s Sister this will be right down your alley. Personally mumblecore is hit or miss for me. Often I feel that label is used to excuse poor acting choices and lazy writing. With Drinking Buddies the style is implemented effectively. It gets at the awkwardness of relationships, especially at those moments where you know what you want to say yet are outwardly unable to get there.
Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde are two big reasons why this style works. Johnson is naturally funny and giving him free reign allows him to showcase his talents. He can handle the more dramatic aspects of the character with ease as well. In addition the chemistry between him and Olivia Wilde is unlimited. They are those two characters that are exceedingly more interesting when they are around each other. Seeing their interplay is a lot of fun as most of the comedy comes from their wacky exploits. Never does it look like they are putting on an act. Olivia Wilde is someone who has yet to make a strong name for herself. At times she can come off as wooden and lifeless. Here she certainly comes alive. She thrives in this environment and shows she can handle both sides of this film’s coin. I gained a new found respect for her as an actress, and hope to see more performances like this in the future.
Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston on the other hand were left out in the cold. Ron Livingston brings his normal expected performance and not much more. He has barely any screen time so it’s hard to formulate a strong opinion on his performance overall. Anna Kendrick’s career so far has been without many blemishes. This might be one of the biggest ones. The lack of scripted dialogue may have gotten to her, or she could be a victim of bad direction. Whatever the issue was, every time she spoke you could see the gears turning. Nearly every word was painstakingly chosen. Her performance was by no means bad—just not as fluid as the other leads.
The story starts to pick up during a double date vacation to Chris’s cabin. Throughout this trip the relationships between the characters become further complicated. What starts as just another good time among friends turns into something a lot more. A connection between Jill and Chris starts to emerge, and has quick ramifications to all those involved. This sets off a series of events that causes Kate and Luke to come to terms with what they actually mean to one another. It might appear like a story you have seen before, and in some ways it is. What is different is the execution. Storylines are not tied up nicely, questions are left unanswered, and the story doesn’t really go anywhere. In some ways this lack of completion is refreshing. Allowing you to relate to the lack of conclusion, and how your own actions lead to your own undoing. Life is very rarely summed up in impassioned monologue to your loved one. Here we see what it really looks like. When it does reach its inevitable conclusion you cannot help but wonder if there was an actual point, or if it ended just because it had nothing left to say. How the ending leaves you will greatly effect what you take away. For me I took away enough to make it an enjoyable experience.