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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    ‘Drinking Buddies’ outdoes expectations


    Burn Later Productions

    Kate (Olivia Wilde), Luke (Jake Johnson), Jill (Anna Kendrick) and Chris (Ron Livingston) are friends who spend their nights socializing with tall glasses of frothy beer. However, relationships with one another become complicated when it’s brought into question whether each person is with the right partner. A loose narrative anchored by strong, charismatic performances by Wilde and Johnson, “Drinking Buddies” explores the wide breadth of friendships and relationships — as well as the ambiguous boundary where the two overlap.

    “Drinking Buddies” seems to be a slight evolutionary step in mumblecore, a relatively new genre comprised of micro-budgeted independent films focusing on adrift 20- or 30-somethings as they try to figure out what to do with their lives. The majority of the script is improvised, and the movies are shot on hand-held cameras, making for a very distinct aesthetic. Director Joe Swanberg is a major figure in the movement, and his “Drinking Buddies” generally follows in the vein of the genre. Fortunately he’s stabilized his camera in his most recent film, making for fewer shaky-cam shots that vacillate in and out of focus. Narratively, though, “Drinking Buddies” is cozily at home in mumble core.

    Not a whole lot happens in the movie. Kate and Luke both work in a Chicago brewery; Kate manages marketing and event planning, and Luke is a brewer. They innocently flirt with each other while on the job, but seem to be content as friends. Each is involved in a relationship: Kate is dating Chris, an older man without the energy of his younger friends, and Luke is dating Jill, a school teacher who brings up marriage yet talks around any serious implications. The couples hang out with each other, and the beer flows freely. Friendships get complicated; relationships deteriorate.

    The absence of a driving narrative means that the interactions and relationships between the characters are the focus, no matter how aimless they may be (because, really, does knocking a few back with friends ever have some sort of underlying theme?). This works as well as can be expected, and rarely, if ever, drifts into dull self-indulgence.

    Wilde, who seems to be a permanent fixture on movie screens nowadays, delivers a fun and layered performance as “one of the guys.” We’ve all known confident, goofy girls like that — yet it only takes a fleeting look of desire or doubt to betray her more serious uncertainties. Johnson makes the perfect counterpart to Wilde as the drowsy, wisecracking Luke. However, like Wilde, when more serious acting is required, he is able to deliver. Johnson perfectly portrays the frustration and helplessness of a man watching the woman he adores have a one-night stand with another man. Kendrick and Livingston, by playing the more straight, slow-moving, mature roles, provide excellent foils to their respective partners.

    The strong chemistry between Wilde’s Kate and Johnson’s Luke renders the abrupt ending a shock. The film seems to telegraph how everything is going to play out within the first 10 minutes, then foregoes the expected ending.

    While the effort to ride against clichés should be noted, it may or may not make any sense in this case. It’s apparent that Luke shares something with Kate he doesn’t with Jill, but perhaps Kate and Luke are at different places in their lives.

    Nevertheless, it seems to exceed the bounds of believability that a man and a woman can playfully touch each other, sleep (literally) in a bed with one another and just in general enjoy each other’s company more than anyone else’s, and not have something more intimate develop.

    Kate and Luke may just be drinking buddies, but that’s right where they’re comfortable.

    Grade: B

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