Drinking Buddies is a comedy-drama film written, directed and co-produced by Joe Swanberg. Starring Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston, it focuses on the relationship between Luke (Johnson) and Kate (Wilde), co-workers at a Chicago brewery who spend their time at work (and outside work) drinking and casually flirting, while still being in relationships with other people. This film fits right into Swanberg’s specialty of mumblecore filmmaking – marked by low production values and a penchant for improvised, natural dialogue. Indeed, the brewery seen in the film is an actual brewery in Chicago, which the actors even did some work for.
It’s nice to see Jake Johnson in something other than New Girl. His performance in Drinking Buddies is definitely praise-worthy – he shows the sense of misdirection and quiet awkwardness that is put on his character by his personal situation. The same can obviously be said for his co-lead, Olivia Wilde, but the changes to her character’s situation roughly halfway through the film ramps up the weirdness a little for Johnson’s character. That’s what I liked about this film – its premise is a beautifully awkward situation for these characters, and (big, general spoiler here) the plot is just a bunch of events that make things even weirder for them. It’s almost like we (as viewers) are just waiting for these two characters to break under the tension and rip each other’s clothes off. There’s something to be said for the view that ‘nothing really happens’ in this film. Personally I really enjoy those kind of drama films; slow, relationship/character driven pieces that have an emphasis on being real – And if you think nothing happens then you’re probably watching it wrong. Without giving too much away here, the best parts of this film for me are when Luke and Kate are left alone together by their respective partners. The awkwardness and tension beneath their lines is just amazing, and their casual closeness makes it look like they’re ‘playing’ at being in a relationship, which just leads to a fantastic ending.
I must admit, when I first watched Drinking Buddies I wasn’t so sure about the film – but looking back at it made me realise how much I liked it. How could I not? It’s a beer-soaked, awkward, relationshippy mess – and those are the best stories (Okay maybe the beer soaked bit doesn’t need to be in that summary, but still). Seriously though, the awkward premise had me hooked from the beginning, just because it’s a filmic gold mine for drama, and the characters feel as real as it gets – find a way to see this film.