Review: Drinking Buddies
PLOT: Two co-workers work through their feelings for one another while attempting to navigate strained relationships with their significant others.
REVIEW: A simple look at a complex relationship, DRINKING BUDDIES is a very fine, very likable indie that spotlights two excellent performances by Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson. The duo play close friends and co-workers who are, whether they want to admit it or not, in love with one another. But what's great about writer-director Joe Swanberg's approach to the material is that he avoids all of the conventional traps a movie like this usually falls in, while still making the experience honest and fun. It's not FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS or NO STRINGS ATTACHED, but it's also not a turgid "Indie" (with a capital I) thumbing its nose at Hollywood just because it wants to be different. DRINKING BUDDIES just tells it like it is.
The title is fitting, seeing how the duo at the center of the tale, Kate (Wilde) and Luke (Johnson), work at a brewery and happen to drink a lot. A lot. (Frankly it's any wonder Kate is in such great shape considering the amount of beer she drinks; maybe the only unrealistic thing about the film.) They kid, they're affectionate, they make each other smile. It's the same comfort you feel with a best friend or loved one, yet any deeper feeling isn't broached by either. It could be because they're both in committed relationships: Kate with stuffy Chris (Ron Livingston), who is a little too "mature" for Kate, and Luke with peppy Jill (Anna Kendrick), who is desperate for him to pop the question. Or perhaps it's just because it's a perfect relationship the way it is.
The foursome go to Chris' family cabin one weekend, which of course will be a powder keg of suppressed emotions for all parties involved. Things don't quite turn out the way we expect, however, and Swanberg's resolution for the trip provides some nice awkwardness that extends throughout the rest of the film, and the "will they or won't they" question gradually looms over every situation.
Swanberg creates a series of naturalistic moments that will ring true for anyone who has been in the same situation, while also remembering he's making a piece of entertainment, so we're not bogged down in pretentious speechifying or overacting. In fact, Wilde and Johnson are so good that we never doubt their camaraderie for a second. They're Swanberg's biggest coup: Wilde is beautiful, of course, but she's transformed nicely here into a "guy's girl" without dressing down; her performance is thoroughly lived-in. Johnson is equally fantastic; I'll be honest, I'm unfamiliar with the comedian (who is featured on Fox's "The New Girl"), but Luke is an instantly recognizable character and Johnson nails every flawed, lovable aspect of him.
I don't dare reveal how DRINKING BUDDIES ends, but for me it's sublime. Not everyone will feel this way, no doubt, but I for one appreciate the subtle and perceptive choices Swanberg makes while guiding Kate and Luke toward their uncertain future.