'Drinking Buddies' Is A Refreshing Treat
Published: Sunday, September 15, 2013
Updated: Sunday, September 15, 2013 21:09
The title sums it up pretty well. In Drinking Buddies, the subject is friendship. The setting is beer, or more accurately lots and lots of beer. While the subject and setting may not be revolutionary, the execution is delightfully refreshing.
Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) both work at a Chicago brewery where they drink, laugh, and partake in general shenanigans. They have an undeniable chemistry—physically as well as verbally. In an ideal world, Kate and Luke would be a couple. But as the film suggests, life is never so simple. Luke is in the sixth year of a serious relationship with Jill (Anna Kendrick). Kate is starting to get serious with Chris (Ron Livingston).
This is the world writer/director Joe Swanberg throws us in, and it’s a world we’ve seen before. Over the past few years, “friends with benefits” art has been all the rage. Two lonely, attractive souls become friends. They begin having casual sex. They realize they want more and are afraid to say it. They break up. They profess their love. Swanberg takes a different track. His is a much quieter film. His movie is one where friends drink, talk, and again partake in general shenanigans.
Drinking Buddies feels so real due to Swanberg’s process. Swanberg’s films are completely improvised. He gives the actors the general plot, but then lets the actors improvise each scene. Drinking Buddies is actually Swanberg’s first swing with big-name actors. Typically, Swanberg has used relatively unknown actors, probably because those were the only actors he could get. But Swanberg’s improvised setting is one in which Wilde, Johnson, Kendrick, and Livingston shine. Wilde’s charisma is needed to carry the slow developing story. Johnson, who plays the perpetually shouting Nick Miller on New Girl, makes a nice turn here using mostly subtle gestures to portray Luke. Kendrick and Livingston play characters the audience should hate, because Hollywood has conditioned us to think that anyone who keeps our leads from a happy-ever-after are deceitful, evil creatures. But through their own affability, the audience realizes that Jill and Chris are just as trapped and confused as Kate and Luke.
Drinking Buddies is a particularly pivotal performance for Wilde. Wilde is without a doubt a movie star, given that she continues to get starring roles. Most of these movies (TRON: Legacy, Cowboys and Aliens, The Change-Up, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone) did not exactly set the world on fire. Hopefully, the titles above did not evoke any painful theater experiences. These duds, though, are hardly the fault of Wilde. Wilde has managed to remain above the fray. Being in a bad movie does not kill an actor’s career. Being the cause of a bad movie does. So despite never really staring in a hit movie, Wilde has remained a movie star.
That brings us to Drinking Buddies, where Wilde may give her best performance to date. It’s a performance in which she is in total control. Wilde gives her character Kate a vibrant genuineness. That genuineness is embodied in the chemistry between Wilde and Johnson. This isn’t a steamy chemistry. Wilde and Johnson just have an ease in which they interact, whether it’s playing black jack, sharing a greasy lunch, or downing yet another pint. Drinking Buddies separates Wilde from the gaggle of young Hollywood actresses. Finally, hits may be on the way for Wilde.
Spoiler Alert: Not much happens in this movie. There are no impassioned speeches of love. The end does not take place on top of the Empire State Building. Some might call Drinking Buddies meandering, loose, or boring. But they would be missing the heart of Drinking Buddies. Drinking Buddies lives in quiet, simple moments. It lives in stolen glances, gentle punches, and most of all, beer. And that’s refreshing. In a genre where plot and melodrama typically rules, it’s refreshing to watch a film carried solely by the chemistry of its leads.