As overused tropes in film go, can men and women ever really be friends might just be the most common. In Drinking Buddies, writer/director Joe Swanberg asks this question once again, the answer being a resounding maybe. While the film’s theme may be as old as movies themselves, Drinking Buddies manages to feel entirely modern; the film’s maybe-emotionally-stunted adult adolescents who drink too much beer and eat too much takeout will feel entirely familiar to viewers of a certain age. It’s also incredibly intimate. For a movie with only very brief nudity, Drinking Buddies feels almost voyeuristic to watch, in the way that too much honesty and vulnerability can be embarrassing to witness.
Drinking Buddies takes its time. From its onset, it’s never in any hurry to get someplace, happy instead to simply follow its four main characters’ journeys. Kate and Luke (Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson) are extremely close coworkers at a craft brewery. Chris and Jill (Ron Livingston and Anna Kendrick) are their respective significant others. Drama ensues when a weekend camping trip to Michigan complicates the relationships between all four.
Much of Drinking Buddies‘ success falls on Wilde. Despite nearly a decade of trying to become A Thing, she’s still best known (to me at least) as the girl from the Bait Shop Mischa Barton went lesbian with on The O.C. In 2012, she made three movies. Name one. But here, Wilde has perhaps finally found where she belongs in Hollywood. In Drinking Buddies she’s this pulsating ball of unbridled energy: dangerous, unpredictable, confident, damaged, passionate, absolutely magnetic and, most importantly perhaps, exceedingly memorable. She’s flanked by a capable supporting cast: Johnson does his familiar rough-around-the-edges good guy schtick, gravel-voiced Livingston and Kendrick, charismatic as ever as Johnson’s young girlfriend. Kendrick is particularly impressive here, tapping into a youthful timidness seemingly with the wisdom of someone looking back, and not as an actual 28 year old herself.
What feels so fresh, so different about Drinking Buddies is that it’s unafraid to make bold choices. Drinking Buddies is not When Harry Met Sally… Swanberg isn’t just exploring romantic relationships, he’s exploring friendships, as well, and complete strangers. And who says perfect for each other can’t just mean friends anyway? It’s a nice subversion of the friends-who-should-be-more romantic comedy genre. And while Drinking Buddies is witty and light-hearted it is at its core a dramatic character study.
In a world where the lines between coworker and friend and friend and lover are paper thin, is any relationship ever fully defined? Add alcohol to the mix and everything starts to look like a grey area, doesn’t it? Drinking Buddies may not have the answers to all these questions, but isn’t the journey supposed to half the fun anyway?