This review was originally published on March 12, 2013…
Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) enjoy a playfully flirtatious repertoire while working at a downtown Chicago microbrewery. The flirting all seems innocent enough, though, as if some invisible force is keeping the two of them from ever crossing the line. Once we are introduced to their significant others, Chris (Ron Livingston) and Jill (Anna Kendrick), respectively, we understand why Kate and Luke don’t just give into the sexual tension and hook up; it also becomes increasingly apparent as to why they enjoy flirting with each other. Kate and Luke are both free spirits whose freedom is often expressed with copious amounts of beer. It is as if they are still stuck in a post-collegiate limbo, refusing to grow-up and settle down. Jill and Chris, however, are much more career-oriented and grounded; compared to Kate and Luke, you might even say that Jill and Chris are boring adults.
It is not until the two couples spend a weekend in a cabin together that we realize just how fragile their relationships have become. For all four members of this party, the grass is apparently much greener on the other side, as they internally struggle with whether they should continue to love the one they’re with or switch to someone who shares a similar mindset.
Utilizing the romantic-comedy genre as a jumping off point, Drinking Buddies catapults director Joe Swanberg into the realm of Hollywood. By casting this particular foursome, especially Wilde and Kendrick, Drinking Buddies immediately becomes something quite different than what we have come to know as a Swanberg production. There are, however, some tricks up Swanberg’s sleeves. He transforms these four actors who have spent most of their careers memorizing their lines from studio-tailored scripts into an ensemble of able-bodied improvisers. Rather than reciting spoon-fed dialogue and doing whatever some oh-so-clever screenwriter expects their characters to do, the Drinking Buddies cast are free to say whatever they would normally say in any given situation and react how they would naturally react.
As a long-time fan of Swanberg’s films, I was admittedly a bit skeptical when I first learned about Drinking Buddies, mostly because I did not expect Wilde and her cohorts to be up for the task; but, thankfully, I was proven wrong, and the actors go places that I would never expect studio-seasoned actors to go. Also, Swanberg admirably retains his cinematic style while simultaneously smoothing out the inherent edges of a micro-budget production.
What makes me happiest about Drinking Buddies is that it marks Swanberg’s first return to comedy since Hannah Takes the Stairs (2007). While the humor of Drinking Buddies could be loosely described as being broad, it is nothing like the over-the-top bluntness served up to audiences by studio comedies. Keeping with Swanberg’s uber-naturalistic vibe, the humor in Drinking Buddies is subtle and realistic. I can only hope that Drinking Buddies is the beginning of a beautiful relationship between Hollywood and independent filmmaking.