Joe Swanberg continues to express a penchant for introspective micro-dramas (Uncle Kent, Silver Bullets), and Drinking Buddies is one of his most informal and organic works yet, though it is the first of his films to include a cast of familiar Hollywood faces. In fact, Mr. Swanberg was inspired to create this movie after his wife gave him a brewery kit as a present, according to this Entertainment Weekly article.
Drinking Buddies stars Olivia Wilde, Ron Livingston, Anna Kendrick, and Jake Johnson as a group of twenty-or-thirty-somethings who are each in committed relationships. Early on, it becomes apparent through a little harmless and casual flirting at the brewery that they work at that Wilde’s Kate and Johnson’s Luke are a great match for each other, but there’s one little problem: each is in a relationship with Livingston’s Chris and Kendrick’s Jill, respectively.
Being one of Mr. Swanberg’s movies, the plot revolves almost entirely around the interplay between the leads and their dialogue, which, by the way, was almost completely improvised. It gives Drinking Buddies an authenticity that’s impossible to duplicate with a set script, and the natural reactions and oddly-timed responses provide a few honest laughs, and quite a few awkward, shift-in-your-seat moments. As the movie progresses, we learn that both Kate and Luke are balking in their established relationships, and that Jill is starting to become frustrated with Luke’s lack of a proposal. Chris, despite being likable and reliable, doesn’t match Kate’s extroverted and expressionistic personality. The two pieces of the puzzle that seem to fit together perfectly are inescapably packaged in two different box sets.
The exploration of four potential partners fueled by a search for romantic happiness and a constant flow of craft beer was a refreshing study of an age group that I’m about to enter. The problem with Mr. Swanberg’s newest entry, however, is that you end up with that “1 a.m. Saturday morning feeling,” the one where you go out with friends and the promise of an epic evening only to end up in bed with a fading buzz and the dull, grinding annoyance of failed expectations and a 6:30 wake up call. It’s a worthwhile investigation, sure. The chemistry is there. But Drinking Buddies finishes like a lager that’s been left out on the counter for about 20 minutes. Yeah, it’s still enjoyable, but you’re not completely satisfied and you’re kind of wandering why you didn’t go with that new cream stout that they just got on tap.
I appreciate the attention to detail and the seemingly meaningless conversations that arise in the second half of the film. Kate, Luke, Jill, and Chris all make bad decisions at one point or another. They make poor decisions like every couple does. They’re afraid that they’ve trapped themselves in a relationship with someone who really is great, but are they perfect? Mr. Swanberg captures this insecurity and slow-build panic perfectly, but what he delivers in honesty and an almost documentary-like execution, he lacks in closure. The characters, who we’ve come to appreciate in small doses and not much more, casually slip back into their established roles after all the pieces fall apart towards the closing credits.
Even though I take issue with some of choices and situations towards the end, I can appreciate Mr. Swanberg’s take on the young adult demographic. In an age where drinking dates and social media presence take priority over sitting down and talking with someone you love, it paints a sadly accurate picture. Drinking Buddies holds up a mirror and forces us to evaluate our inability to communicate effectively and express ourselves in a serious relationship. It takes you out of your comfort zone, but the mere fact that this million dollar budget flick has the ability to do that should be applauded. That, and the fact that the cast and crew got to drink on set. Seriously. Unfortunately, I found that more entertaining than most of the movie.
2-1/2 out of 5 Stars