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Drinking Buddies – Review
October 31, 2013
Taken at face value, Joe Swanberg’s thirteenth directorial effort Drinking Buddies could easily be mistaken for just another film in Hollywood’s plethora of generic romantic comedies. Its premise certainly bears great resemblance to a lot of movies that Cameron Diaz or Ashton Kutcher have starred in; two friends who work together and seem to be perfect for each other are both in relationships with other people. The film visits a lot of similar settings and scenarios, including a couples weekend at a cabin and one partner taking an extended trip away (…what will happen?) and all the main cast could definitely fill the Kutcher or Diaz role in a standard rom-com, with Jake Johnson (of New Girl fame), Olivia Wilde and Anna Kendrick starring. Despite all this, Drinking Buddies is, thankfully, not a movie that Ashton Kutcher or Cameron Diaz could have starred in.
My familiarity with Joe Swanberg’s previous work is not extensive having only really seen him in acting roles, however I enjoyed his segment in the 2012 horror movie V/H/S and 2011’s Silver Bullets and knew enough about him as a director to know that he favours little scripting and instead prefers to give his actors the space and freedom to improvise a majority of the dialogue in his films. This style works well in Drinking Buddies, giving the interactions between all the characters a more natural and realistic feel. It also lends well to one of the highlights of the film: the relationship between Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson). The improvisation makes for some genuinely funny moments between the pair, usually involving them chatting bullshit or getting drunk (which, as you’d expect, happens a lot). Their flirting is interesting to watch, always appearing slightly awkward and uncomfortable, often allowing the guilt they both feel to creep into a glance or smile.
Drinking Buddies also successfully avoids the character archetypes often found in rom-coms, Anna Kendrick’s Jill being the best example. In a worse film she would have been the stereotypical, “bitch” girlfriend who we, the audience, are meant to hate because we can see she isn’t right for Luke and Kate is the one he’s really meant to be with. What we get instead is a genuinely charming character who, despite her flaws and a certain mistake she makes early in the movie, might be equally well-suited to Luke as much as Kate. This helps minimize the desire the viewer might have to see Luke and Kate end up together and gives us a different range of emotions to feel as the story and relationships play out.
There are minor missteps to be found in Drinking Buddies. Ron Livingston’s Chris has some of the best lines in the film, but they are delivered in an often life-less manner, which makes his character all the more simple to dislike and eager to be removed from the equation. The movie may also have benefitted from a slightly more ruthless hand in the editing room, but these are minor grievances in a funny and charming independent movie that presents an interesting take on how complicated romance in a friendship can really be.
Drinking Buddies premiered at the BFI London Film Festival and it’s out in cinemas on Friday, November 1.