d r i n k i n g b u d d i e s
1st November 2013
Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson
27th October 2013
Joe Swanberg is something of a jack of all trades. Producer, writer, actor, director… he’s not quite up there with Ron Howard but he’s certainly a man who like to cover a lot of bases. To be honest, he hadn’t really registered on my radar until recently, his highest profile piece thus far probably being playing Kevin in A Horrible Way to Die. For his latest, he stays mostly behind camera, appearing only as ‘angry guy in car’, and believe me, you don’t want to cross him when he’s angry.
Drinking Buddies tells what should be a pretty familiar tale to most people. I say should be because the majority of people probably won’t want to admit that they are very familiar with the situation that Kate, Luke, Jill and Chris find themselves in. The first two, played respectively by Olivia Wilde and a prodigiously bearded Jake Johnson, are co-workers at a local brewery. Enjoying the sort of relationship that immediately makes you think you know where it will end up, they both have partners when we first meet them. Kate is six months into a relationship with Chris (Ron Livingston on the edge of being utterly typecast as nice but dull) and Luke is engaged (to be married at some distant point) to the lovely Jill (Anna Kendrick). They go on a double date and the next thing we know they’re off into the woods to Chris’ patents place for a weekend of hiking. And drinking. Mostly drinking. Chris kisses Jill and we all know where it goes from there. Right?
Well, that’s what makes this movie so enchanting. It doesn’t go there, it goes pretty much how you’d expect it to go if this were real life and not a Hollywood rom-com. Barely scripted (the actors had an outline of the scenes but no more. And in the case of Kendrick, she even disputes that outline was available), Swanberg drops his leads into their situations and lets them just get on with how they think it would go. Which works and doesn’t work. It works because what we get is a superbly honest portrayal of adults, clinging to their youth and each other and always doubting themselves and their situations. Where it struggles is that occasionally we’re shot forward into situations with little explanation. The cabin trip appears out of nowhere and we struggle to catch up on relationships that the actors seem to know better than we do.
Not that any of that is a problem once you relax back into the movie. The LFF presented me with two surprises when it came to rom-coms this year. Enough Said was the first and this is the second. Rather than trotting out Chris as a complete douche or Jake as a dishonest predator, Swanberg lets them be normal people. To be fair, poor old Livingston is somewhat sidelined by the loose narrative, apparently only being there to upset the various relationships but it’s easy to forgive the movie that slip. It’s the hugely likeable Johnson as Luke that is easiest to identify with (for a boy watching this anyway, I suspect girls will look similarly on the two female leads). His easy charm and lively nature make Luke the life of the party but it’s easy to tell just how torn he is over his crush on Kate. He pushes towards her whilst just about staying on side with his fiancé, only to gradually realise where his true allegiances lie.
Swanberg throws in a number of great gags and setups and his cast are great fun to spend time with. Luke’s attempts at helping Kate move house are laugh out loud funny and Jill’s repressed guilt over the kiss in the woods is genuinely touching. The reverse of a lot of movies, Drinking Buddies has no idea how to start but has exactly the right idea of how to end. We kind of get thrown into the characters lives and for a time it’s difficult to adjust. Once you do though, this wonderful film will pay you back. Funny, touching and at times uncomfortably honest, Swanberg has achieved something pretty impressive. He’s made a contemporary rom-com that doesn’t patronise you with easy answers and Hollywood finishes. And he’s done it with a lot of beer. What’s not to respect there?
Check out the trailer here.