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DRINKING BUDDIES (review)

Review by Todd Sokolove

So many great films at SXSW, so little time.  

Although I was able to check out a ton of great features and documentaries while there, I’m glad some of the best of the fest is finally making wider release.

One of these is hitting theaters tomorrow and currently available On Demand –  Drinking Buddies from writer/producer/director/actor Joe Swanberg (LOL, V/H/S).   

Swanberg admits inspiration from comedies of the early 70s, like Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, but I would also throw in there Carnal Knowledge.

This is elephant-in-the-room relationship territory, where every facial gesture, body language and unspoken remark leaves a little mark.  Alcohol is a frequent collaborator in Drinking Buddies, without a message for or against reliance on it.

Olivia Wilde (Tron: Legacy) plays the free-spirited, but deeply
conflicted Kate, the token female player in a successful craft brewery.
 She gets along well with the guys at work, and hangs with them after
hours for a few pints and pool games before heading to the apartment of
her boyfriend Chris, played by Ron Livingston (The Conjuring).  

Kate is the quintessential fun co-worker, and puts on her professional, mature side only when need be (like, when around the very serious, kind of pretentious Chris).


The other couple consists of Luke, played by New Girl‘s Jake Johnson and his long-time girlfriend Jill (Oscar Nominee Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air).  They’re the quintessential old-married couple that has yet to get married, or in this case really have a serious conversation about it.  Luke and Kate, however are “just-good-friends” on the verge of never doing anything about it.

This set up could have so easily sinked into cliché, but there’s a brilliant set piece early in the film that’s a testament to the performances from the four leads.

Brought together first at an after-hours work party, there are polite familiarities mixed with subtle hints that each couple’s in a unfulfilled relationship.  When the couples go on a weekend trip to Chris’ cabin in the woods, their respective feelings for one another are put to the test.

Writer/Director Swanberg is in control, with the film’s dialogue completely improvised from a basic plot outline.  His cast fully exploits every possible aspect of their characters.  Thankfully Olivia Wilde gets to carry most of the film. Her performance is very genuine, constantly adorable and brave to accent Kate’s flaws without ever making you despise the character.

But it’s the film’s real co-star, alcohol, that gets all the clever commentary on what’s really going on.

There are the types of guys (and the occasional Kate) that enjoy a beer with lunch, especially when its made right there in the workplace.  More beer after work only makes things better.  Kate’s boyfriend Chris is shown as a casual whisky drinker.  Luke’s girlfriend Jill is easily seduced by a nice wine and cheese picnic in the woods, no less by Chris.  Cut back to Kate and Jake as stumbling really-good-friends, and really no more than the titular “drinking buddies.” 


Like a good brew, Drinking Buddies is true to heart and refreshing.  Watch it with someone you love, but they probably don’t really know it.

GEEK ALERT:

  • Yes, that’s Horror Director/Writer Ti West (House of the Devil) as “Dave” pulling an Eli Roth.
  • The movie is partially inspired from personal stories of the director’s friend, a woman who works for Half Acre Brewing in Chicago.
  • Joe Swanberg and Ti West are both actors in this weekend’s big Horror release You’re Next.

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