“Drinking Buddies” is a modest slice-of-life indie film that boasts a disproportionately starry cast and may draw in more than a few people expecting big laughs and high concept comedy. However, this largely improvised story of the life and loves of a pair of brewery workers and their partners is unlikely to do more than provoke a wry smile as it unfolds.
The story centres on Luke (Jake Johnson, “Safety Not Guaranteed“, “New Girl”) and his best friend at work Kate (Olivia Wilde). Luke’s girlfriend Jill (Anna Kendrick) is keen on marriage while he is stalling while Kate’s relationship with Chris (Ron Livingston) is starting to feel stale. At a party at the brewery, the four of them decide to go for a trip to Chris’ family cottage in the woods.
Although the set-up is equal parts Shakespeare and classic farce, this low profile naturalistic film treads neither path and instead keeps things very much on a realistic footing as it charts the excitement and tedium of the everyday lives of the characters.
Front and centre are Johnson and Wilde who have a great rapport and on-screen chemistry, leaving you kind of rooting for them to get together, even though their respective partners are pretty blameless and the true strength of “Drinking Buddies” is the honesty with which it shows the messiness of relationships and friendships and how over the course of days and weeks it can feel like there have been momentous events and simultaneously that nothing has happened.
It’s a little uneven at times, in part due to the improvisation of the dialogue, and despite a short ninety minute run time, it starts to run out of steam a little and feels like it only just makes it over the finish line. However, it’s interesting to see actors used to more scripted and grander budgets allowed this kind of freedom to experiment within the broad structure of the story and the denouement while not being the ending you hoped for is both sweet and realistic.
With a brief cameo from Jason Sudeikis as the brewery owner, and a poster which evokes “Friends”, this may appear to be another whacky Hollywood comedy romp but it’s really a sheep in wolf’s clothing. Fine performances aside, the subtle human dramas of the humdrum nature of everyday life offer just about enough to hold the attention, and its thanks to the clever camerawork and editing by director Joe Swanberg that this improv experiment succeeds as much as it does.