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Film Review: Drinking Buddies

Blurred lines in a close friendship between two people of the opposite sex can be tough to navigate. Factor in lots of beer and the lines only become fuzzier.

This is the premise behind Joe Swanberg’s new film Drinking Buddies, which stars Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston. Swanberg, who is known to have his actors participate as collaborators and improvise their dialogue, wrote, edited and directed the film.

Drinking Buddies follows the friendship between Kate (played by Olivia Wilde) and Luke (played by Jake Johnson), two close workplace friends at a Chicago microbrewery. Luke is in a long-term committed relationship with his girlfriend Jill (played by Anna Kendrick) while Kate is in her own relationship with Chris (played by Ron Livingston). Jill is ready to seriously discuss marriage with Luke after many years of dating meanwhile Chris and Kate build the foundation for their relationship having been dating exclusively for several months.

The stability of Kate and Luke’s respective relationships changes following a couple’s vacation up to the mountains. Lines are crossed and relationships reevaluated upon their return from the weekend getaway. Chris ends his relationship with Kate while Jill inquires about the prospect of marriage to a hesitant Luke. All the meanwhile Kate and Luke find themselves drawn closer to each other in an emotional way that borderlines on romantic attraction. Their constant flirting and drinking beer creates an ever-growing complicated situation.

Drinking Buddies Property of Magnolia Pictures
Property of Magnolia Pictures

 

One of the best aspects of Drinking Buddies is the performance of Olivia Wilde. She shines in her role as Kate and gives one of the better performances of her career. Wilde proves that she is beautifully talented and versatile  in this “girl next door” type of role. It is also a delight to see good chemistry between her and Jake Johnson, something that is rare to see on the screen these days. Certainly the unconventional techniques employed by Swanberg make their complicated friendship feel organic and real.

What’s also refreshing about Drinking Buddies is that it is not the same formulaic romantic-comedy that gets churned out several times over every year. It feels much more like real life and less fantasy or predictable. For those in the audience who have been in that same position as Kate and Luke, this film will certainly speak to them and their experiences.

However, that’s not to say that Drinking Buddies is without its faults. The biggest issue is in regards to the the premise of the movie centers around. Its odd to say, but there is almost no tension in Kate and Luke’s friendship throughout the film. At no point do Kate and Luke discuss the obvious attraction they have for each other and are content to remain ignorant to themselves, each other, and everyone around them. It is never made an issue by either of their respective romantic partners and is rarely an issue for Kate and Luke, save for one disagreement at the end of the movie. No catharsis comes of it and decide to go back to their usual routine.

And the issue of tension in the film doesn’t end there. The relationship between Jill and Luke feels almost like an afterthought. When Jill brings up the conversation about marriage to Luke, it sort of meanders and nothings happens. When Jill brings up the mistake she made by kissing Chris on the hike, again nothing happens. Where is the conflict in either Jill and Luke’s relationship or Kate and Luke’s relationship? Was this not supposed to be story about navigating the blurred lines of a friendship? The lines of Kate and Luke’s friendship are clearly blurred, but every time the line is crossed there is no consequence. Its all build up for little payoff.

Property of Magnolia Entertainment
Property of Magnolia Entertainment

Overall this limits the ability of the movie to be entertaining. It is not a laugh-out-loud type of comedy. It has its quirks when portraying real human interaction but the lack of tension or conflict between characters leaves the audience unfulfilled. The characters are a constant from beginning to end. They are in the exact same position that they were in the beginning as they were in the end, save for Chris making his choice to break up with Kate.

Other than that, Kendrick and Livingston’s performances are fairly standard, almost uninspiring at times. There is nothing special in what they bring to the film, probably because the story doesn’t give them that opportunity. Chris is an aside while Jill, despite the instance of infidelity and her desire to bring up marriage to Luke, is wrongfully treated as an aside.

Wilde gives a good performance and the chemistry between her and Johnson plays out well on screen. However the lack of tension and conflict where there should be leaves a lot to be desired. Audiences may find the film slow or drawn out unless they themselves can relate to the situation that Kate and Luke find themselves in throughout the movie. In other words, the appeal is limited. Overall, Drinking Buddies has a lot of heart but it is not enough to make up for its shortcomings.

Drinking Buddies, released by Magnolia Pictures, will be playing in limited release this Friday, August 23 and is available for download on video on demand. It is produced Andrea Roa, Joe Swanberg, and Alicia Van Covering. For more information, visit the film’s official site.

Grade: C-

 

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Aaron Zamora

Aaron grew up in Whittier, California and is currently finishing his master's degree in Human Communication studies from California State University, Fullerton. His interest in journalism began in high school where he served as the Editor-in-Chief for his school’s newspaper and participated in their inaugural broadcast journalism program. An avid world traveler, Aaron has a wide array of interest that include a passion for cinema and television. He is also a sports fanatic.

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