A movie about friends that work in a brewery and spend a lot of time drinking beer? My kind of people!
Drinking Buddies is actually little more than that. Luke (Jake Johnson) and Kate (Olivia Wilde) are co-workers and good friends at a micro-brewery. They spend much of their time flirting and seem like they'd be a great fit for each other, but both are in relationships. Luke is in a long term relationship with Jill (Anna Kendrick), while Kate just started seeing Chris (Ron Livingston). Luke and Jill have a good relationship, but Jill is starting to press Jake about marriage. Kate and Chris are still in the hooking up stage and he doesn't even seem that into her. Part of me had to suspend my belief a little bit that a knockout like Kate would have a lack of dating options and that someone like Chris would only be lukewarm towards her. A hot chick that loves to hang out, drink beer, and works for a brewery? Where do I sign up? Is there a wait list?
The couples take a trip together, and without spoiling too much, something happens that you think will chain a particular series of events, but it doesn't play out that way. Part of me applauds Drinking Buddies for not taking the predictable, obvious rom-com route, while the other part is frustrated that nothing happens. One of the reasons why it's so frustrating is that Luke and Kate have such great chemistry together. The "will they or won't they" question hangs over the whole film.
Drinking Buddies features a lot of what bugs me about mumblecore films: nothing really happens, it just kind of meanders without any plot, and there's no third act. However, the open-endedness and ambiguity of Drinking Buddies worked for me. In life, we don't always know what's going to happen next. The situations dealt with are very real and easy to identify with. While characters argue and get emotional, it's not melodramatic. In fact, there's a very understated scene where Luke and Kate make up after an argument that I found very sweet. I felt like a fly on the wall at times. You're likely to watch Drinking Buddies and see a lot of familiar things from your own experiences. It also doesn't hurt that these are people I could see myself hanging out with. They aren't too quirky or caricatures, but just normal folks.
The strength are the performances of Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde, and the chemistry between them. Jake Johnson is a favorite of mine from New Girl, so he gave me pretty much what I expected from him, but I was really impressed with Wilde's performance. I've been kind of hard on her in the past, as I think she's taken roles that haven't given her much to do, but this is the first time I've seen her do something that made me really take notice of her. She's funny, sympathetic and vulnerable. This is easily my favorite thing she's been in. Anna Kendrick is cute as she always is, and Ron Livingston had that same demeanor he has in Office Space after he got hypnotized.
Like many mumblecore films, it's largely unscripted, allowing the actors to improvise their dialog and get into their characters. Director Joe Swanberg apparently just gave them an outline of major points that needed to happen in each scene and then let them go for it. It really worked, as the dialog felt very natural and intimate. People actually communicate and say what they want to say, something that usually bugs the hell out of me in traditional dramedies or rom-coms. It's a credit to the cast that they were able to make it work so well. While there really aren't any jokes in the film, there's a lot dialog and observations you're likely to get a laugh out of. Plus, anytime Jason Sudeikis made an appearance, he got me to laugh. That guy has my number so far.
On a side note, it's kind of weird that I happened to see Drinking Buddies about an hour after seeing You're Next, which also features Joe Swanberg and Ti West. Swanberg has a cameo here as well. Another weird observation is that Jake Johnson is totally clean shaven in the poster above, but sports a pretty scruffy beard in the film. Never underestimate the power of the beard!
Drinking Buddies is a peek into the relationships of a few friends as they navigate their way through life. Its open-endedness may disappoint those looking for a traditional rom-com, but the natural dialog, as well as the realistic and funny feel make it worth the watch. Lastly, it's highlighted by two really strong performances from Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde. It's available On-Demand now and worth checking out.
3.5 out of 5 Death Stars