Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson (perfectly cast) star as Kate and Luke, inseparable friends and co-workers who could be more. Their respective personal lives – Luke is discussing marriage with his long-time girlfriend, while Kate is in the midst of another relationship that looks set to fail - and their many a shared beer, complicate matters, however. Joe Swanberg’s observant, funny, relatable and quite brilliant comedy/drama intricately examines male-female friendships, the everyday behaviour of likeable white middle class individuals and the emotional strain that stems from their various relationships.
I believe that Drinking Buddies is the first film from the prolific writer/director, who has made cameo appearances in several films this year, to screen here in Australia. A big shout out to the team at the Possible Worlds Festival of Canadian and American Cinema for bringing the film to the 2013 program. I hope it receives a cinema release so more people can see this exceptional film. If you enjoyed Lynn Shelton's Your Sister's Sister, which stars Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt, I feel you will adore Drinking Buddies.
Kate and Luke work at a Chicago craft brewery. He’s part of the brewery team, she's in the office and on the phone, coordinating functions. They have lunch together on a daily basis, hang out after work at the local pub and sometimes end up snuggling together passed out on the couch. Luke and his girlfriend of six years, Jill (Anna Kendrick), are contemplating marriage, a topic she continually suggests they agree to talk about in the future, sensing that Luke is reluctant and having second thoughts. Though Luke's relationship with Kate has never crossed any boundaries, it is an unorthodox one. He loves Jill, that is clear, but is she right for him? Kate has been going steady with Chris (Ron Livingston), a music producer, but their relationship seems to lack spark.
Chris extends an invite to Luke and Jill to join he and Kate at his family's holiday house. There they find themselves naturally paired up – Chris with Jill, Luke with Kate - with the ensuing entanglements appearing to change the course of both relationships. While Chris and Jill take a forest hike, Luke and Kate mess in their own little world like they always do - drinking beer, playing cards and constructing epic sandwiches. From these experiences, and the ensuing developments, Kate and Luke learn a thing or two about commitment - whether it is out of love or friendship - and began to understand the difference between the two.
What is a stroke of genius is Swanberg’s decision to allow his actors to improvise their dialogue and have control over their character's personalities – even to the point of choosing their own clothes - which made their interactions unpredictable and believable. These people talk like everyday people – broken, idle chitchat and sometimes speaking but not actually saying anything – with the actors beautifully conveying their emotions through the organic progression of the conversations.
Here are a couple of examples: Luke comes home from a night out and finds Jill working on a project. Tired, he leaves her alone but suggests they jump into bed to sleep in about 45 minutes. This is something that I know couples do, but never have I seen this kind of dialogue exchange on screen before. No one believes it makes for engrossing cinema. In another sequence, Chris climbs into bed with Kate. She is reading the novel he interrupted foreplay a few nights earlier to give her, and is anxious to check where she is up to. This glance across the page as she is reading is crossing into her personal space. An awkward moment is shared between the two, a small detail not normally considered significant. Here, these telling little moments reveal more about their personalities and what's going on in their lives, and gives us a sense of their relationship comfort levels.
While there are dramatic elements Drinking Buddies is a very funny film. Johnson (New Girl and Safety Not Guaranteed) delivers some of his comic lines with effortless skill, while Wilde (Tron: Legacy) gives what must be her best performance. As the lone female in the male dominated world of the brewery, she has a feisty way about her. She enjoys flirting with the guys, even allowing herself to become vulnerable in an especially unhealthily emotional stretch. We understand that her friendship with Luke is the most important relationship in her life. These genuine performances ensure that we care for these characters - so much so that we feel like they are our own friends come the end of the fim. Kendrick and Livingston are excellent too, and in an even smaller role so is Jason Sudeikis as Kate and Luke's boss. In one of many memorable sequences he joins his employees for a night out. Having drunk too much, he tries to make small talk, only to learn that he just doesn't fit in.
It is the little moments such as these, the bold reliance on cast chemistry, improvised dialogue and spontaneous emotion, as well as the fantastic setting offered by the brewery, that gives Drinking Buddies immense charm and those rarely-captured qualities that prompt me to return to this chapter of these character's lives again.
[rating=4] and a half
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22
Andy Buckle is a passionate Sydney-based film enthusiast and reviewer who has built a respected online voice at his personal blog, The Film Emporium. Andy will contribute reviews, features and be our resident film festival, and awards expert.