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article imageReview: 'Drinking Buddies' Special

By Jason Bushey     Aug 23, 2013 in Entertainment
Joe Swanberg's 'Drinking Buddies' is less about the booze than the title leads on, and showcases some serious improv chops from some unlikely sources.
'Drinking Buddies' is the latest project from Mumblecore savant Joe Swanberg, and while there isn't much here in terms of plot, structure or action, there's still something supremely likable about this movie thanks in no small part to its cast.
First, a word about said lack of structure, etc. According to Swanberg himself, "all the dialogue was improvised." The 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' approach makes for some particularly awkward exchanges, including one such scene in which role players Ron Livingston and Anna Kendrick stop for a picnic while hiking apart from their significant others on a bizarro couples retreat. The scene, which sets the (loosely-organized) plot in motion is uncomfortable for the actors and the audience members alike, lending squirm-inducing realism to a film that's about much more than sippin' suds.
About that. I'm not as much of a beer connoisseur as some of my friends are, but part of the appeal of checking this buzz-garnering indie out was the prospect of seeing stars Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson get their craft beer brewin' on. And while there is some stock footage of Johnson pouring hops into those behemoth micro brew barrels, by and large the beer is not the star of 'Drinking Buddies'.
Luckily, Wilde and Johnson together are just that. The two actors have serious chemistry, working to simmer the 'Will They or Won't They?' tension to a boiling point. That said, it's the scenes Johnson has with his other co-star, the aforementioned Kendrick (who plays Johnson's serious girlfriend), that will have you undecided right to the very end on which character and outcome you're actually rooting for.
As good as Kendrick and Johnson are, it's Wilde who comes closest to having a breakthrough performance. Where as many of her previous roles left her with little to sink her teeth into, 'Drinking Buddies' gives her the opportunity to act as an honest-to-God real person. That's harder than it sounds, and when Wilde trades in the the glitz and glam required of her previous roles for the flawed, insecure and maybe-but-not-quite alcoholic she plays in 'Drinking Buddies', the payoff is the audience getting to see a very talented actress in a new light. This one fits her quite well.
'Drinking Buddies' is a lethargic look at what happens when platonic friends tip-toe the line between friendly and flirty; that they drink is merely a device in which we're given to understand their commonplace. While the plot is essentially aimless for the first three-quarters of the movie, the actors hold your attention by slowly and gently stroking the tension, which comes to a head when Johnson's Luke helps Wilde's Gate move between Chicago apartments.
Ultimately, the stars of 'Drinking Buddies' give us some fun-enough characters to hang out with for 90 minutes. The true feelings and prerogatives of the main characters are reserved but for a few meaningful moments, of which many are apparent to the audience only. Despite (and perhaps because of) the creative control the actors were given in terms of improvised dialogue, there's a lot of people not saying what they're thinking in this movie.
It's that frustrating passive aggression that makes this film feel as authentic and at times as too-close-to-home hitting of any of Swanberg's films to date.
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