Luke and Kate are co-workers at a Chicago brewery, where they spend their days drinking and flirting. They’re perfect for each other, except that they’re both in relationships. Luke is in the midst of marriage talks with his girlfriend of six years, Kate is playing it cool with her music producer boyfriend Chris. But you know what makes the line between “friends” and “more than friends” really blurry? Beer. (Imdb)
The Observer, Sunday 3 November 2013
The bonding and the deadening effects of beer are exhaustively and excellently explored in this post-mumblecore (that is: cheap, improvised but no longer absolutely infuriating) effort from Hannah Takes the Stairsdirector Joe Swanberg. It enjoys the same complicated relationship with its leading lady that all his films seem to. In this case, it’s Olivia Wilde as the only woman at a boutique microbrewery in Chicago. She wears vests, starts boozing when she clocks in for the day and hangs out with the guys before heading to the flat of her boyfriend (Ron Livingston) for a quick shag, before cycling home on her fixie. She’s best friends with a co-worker played by Jake Johnson, and they’re about as silly and intimate as you can get without actually being a couple; he’s engaged to the slightly more prim Anna Kendrick.
Then the foursome go away for a weekend and the tension begins to bubble, spilling over in ways both inevitable and unexpected. At its crassest, Drinking Buddies succeeds because it holds an aspirational mirror up to a generation (though if anyone ever guzzled as much as Wilde’s character they’d weigh in at about 20 stone). But it’s also more mature than its plot, premise and even its ancestry suggest. There are emotional razors amid the wooziness.
By A. O. SCOTT – August 22, 2013
A conventional way to describe Kate and Luke’s relationship would be to say they’re just friends. But “just” hardly captures the intensity of the bond between them. Co-workers at a thriving Chicago microbrewery, Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) have an effortless, comfortable intimacy. They get each other’s jokes and never tire of each other’s company. Daily lunch companions, they often extend the nightly busman’s holiday of after-work beer-drinking until closing time. They snuggle up in booths and couches, sometimes dozing off, but more like puppies in a box than lovers in bed.
Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson are co-workers at a microbrewery in “Drinking Buddies,” in which their friendship threatens to become something more.
Anyway, they both already have lovers. Kate is dating a slightly older guy named Chris (Ron Livingston), while Luke lives with his slightly younger girlfriend, Jill (Anna Kendrick). A two-couple trip to Chris’s family’s vacation house near the dunes in Michigan brings about some interesting complications, as lines of romantic interest and platonic devotion become entangled and boundaries of sexual ethics are tested. There is a stolen kiss, a late-night swim, episodes of tactical insomnia and moments of awkward silence.
In a different kind of movie — or rather, in the same old kind of movie the Hollywood studios have been churning out, usually in February, for the past decade or so — the Michigan high jinks would commence a crescendo of complications leading to a predictable happy ending. But“Drinking Buddies,” Joe Swanberg’s nimble, knowing and altogether excellent new film, refuses to dance to the usual tune.
“Drinking Buddies” is funny and sweet enough to qualify as a romantic comedy, except that the phrase implies a structure as well as an attitude. The genre depends on tidy mathematics, a calculus of desire that produces the same result every time. Mr. Swanberg, a prolific investigator of the makeshift mores of the young, prefers a kind of fractal geometry, leaving room for contingency, confusion and randomness in his search for emotional and behavioral truth. In the past, his explorations have sometimes been waylaid by formal sloppiness and a leering, distracting commitment to filming women without clothes. Still, he has become an undisputed expert on the group activities (filmmaking among them) of post-collegiate urban white people, and a pioneer of the cinematic manner that may define the current generation of 20- and 30-somethings.
The word Mumblecore is stuck to this cohort like a piece of gum on the sole of a shoe, but “Drinking Buddies” — along with other recent movies by Lynn Shelton and the Duplass brothers — represents an advance, not only toward the entertainment mainstream but also toward a more polished and confident style. “Drinking Buddies” follows the eddies and digressions of everyday life. Mr. Swanberg’s camera weaves through bodies at rest, at work and at the bar in no particular hurry, and his script captures the idioms of men and women who are equally inclined to waste words and to say very little. But the busy tedium of their lives is given shape and direction by the skill of the cast and by the precision of the director’s eye, ear and editing instincts.
Mr. Livingston looks credibly tired and confused as a guy who has stayed young for too long. Mr. Johnson is cranky and likable, playing a fully bearded variation on his gruff, needy “New Girl” character. Ms. Kendrick beautifully conveys Jill’s anxiety as she tries to reconcile her own needs with the unspoken imperatives to keep everything happy and casual. When she and Luke talk about getting married, their negotiations are pitch-perfect meta-conversations — they talk about someday talking about the things they claim not to be talking about at all — delivering the insight that passive-aggression is nowadays less a personal trait than a cultural norm.
But it is Ms. Wilde’s determined, slightly manic energy that keeps the story going. Kate is constantly in motion, navigating an otherwise all-male workplace with easy, one-of-the-guys humor and zipping from the bar to Chris’s apartment on her bicycle. In an early scene, Chris, who always seems to be brooding about something, interrupts their foreplay with a gift: a copy of John Updike’s “Rabbit, Run,” whose wayward, impulsive hero he says reminds him of Kate. This is a fascinating and unlikely idea, since Rabbit Angstromhas been, for generations of readers, the very embodiment of entitled male narcissism. Is Chris just taking a weird literary swipe at Kate, or has he glimpsed a truth about gender relations in a post-Updike world?
In many ways, though, “Drinking Buddies” proposes a corrective to the Updikean assumption that sexual intercourse is the ground and horizon of modern male-female relations. Kate and Luke are obviously in love, and for a while, the operative question seems to be not whether they will sleep together but when.
But as the emotional weather — between them and between each of them and their partners — starts to shift, other questions intrude. Why should they? What if they do? What if they don’t? Can they be friends? The triumph of this movie is that the answers matter a lot, even if they are ambiguous.