Movie Review: ‘Drinking Buddies’

drinking-buddies-posterDirected by: Joe Swanberg

Starring: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston

Plot: 2 brewery employees walk the fine line between friendship and flirtation while having separate romantic relationships.


I find the mumblecore movement to be mostly hit or miss. I love the philosophy of it. You get comedic talent together and allow them to improvise their way through an outline instead of a screenplay. The result is a very natural sense of comedy and conversation that makes everything seem more authentic and sincere, even the drama. The success of this is mostly based on the chemistry of the actors and the ability of the director to guide and edit his way into a real film. You have to put a lot of faith in your performers to find their way without much guidelines, and unfortunately, you can end up with something authentic yet uninteresting. This movie, along with a few others including this year’s Frances Ha (which I am pissed that I missed), signifies a new dawn of the mumblecore movement. These flicks aren’t just stitched together indies anymore. They have become more polished and sophisticated.

Expert tasting technique

Expert tasting technique

This story stars a scruffy looking Jake Johnson as Luke. Luke brews beer for a small craft brewery in Chicago. He works with Kate, played by Olivia Wilde, a beautiful and likable woman who is the so-called face of the brewery. She arranges private tastings and represents them at festivals. When they aren’t working, they are drinking and flirting with each other. They seem a match made in heaven, but they are already in relationships. Luke is living with Jill, a bubbly special ed teacher played by Anna Kendrick, while Kate seems to have just started up with Chris, a slightly older and socially awkward homebody played by Ron Livingston. The foursome go to a cabin for a weekend which stresses their relationships.

The comedic sensibilities of this cast are incredible. Just looking at their past careers, they are clearly very adept at making with the funny, but as a dramedy, it is hardly laugh out loud. A few jokes hit with an incredible precision, but the movie, as a whole, is better described as smile-inducing than gut-busting. This is all the better to blend with all the heart-warming and heart-breaking moments that drive the characters forward. 

Sitcoms and romantic comedies have pretty much been ruined by the “will-they-or-won’t-they” plotlines. They are formulaic and too easy not to care about. No one has the balls to do a won’t-they ending anyway, so most of them are pretty predictable, usually in the cheesiest way possible. Drinking Buddies, though, will totally reinvigorate your faith in the old trope.  Johnson and Wilde have amazing chemistry, some of the best I’ve ever seen. Not only are they really funny together, but they put the tension in sexual tension. Every scene feels like it is going to end with them finally making out like a coupe of animals, yet it is never truly clear if they’ll ever get together. Never have so few stakes made me feel like I was on the edge of my seat. It is also nice to see this kind of story where the other people in the relationships are not so broadly drawn. They aren’t simply just two dimensional obstacles for the 2 leads to get over so that they can be happily ever after. They have their own needs, desires, and baggage. We are never led to hate them or root against them. In fact, they make the “will-they-or-won’t-they” all the more interesting since they are viable options instead of just in the way.

Drinking alone, never good

Drinking alone, never good

Relationships, like most things worthy of effort, aren’t easy. Monogamy goes against our nature, but that’s what makes romance so special in the first place. This movie isn’t “romantic” in the classic sense, but it takes a honest and refreshing look at relationships, both romantic and platonic.

Rating: 8/10

What Else to Watch: As Good As it Gets, a strange dramedy about 3 mismatched people (a gay tormented artist, his hateful neighbor with OCD, and the waitress they are both obsessing over) strike up a strange friendship when they are all forced to go on a roadtrip together.