Director/ Writer: Joe Swanberg
Starring: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston, Jason Sudeikis
Synopsis: Kate (Wilde) and Luke (Johnson) work together at a small brewery, drinking together most nights after work. One weekend the colleagues and their significant others enjoy a weekend away where deeper feelings begin to surface.
Without a script – running off a vague plotline – the actors of Drinking Buddies have proved how easy it is to underestimate some talent. Whereas Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston have found themselves in many esteemed films, Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson have (arguably) not. Johnson is recognised more for his turn in New Girl, a not-so-terrific sitcom, now hopefully forgotten with this gem.
It’s hard to sense the improvisation, which becomes the film’s greatest asset – an unnoticeable sheen on the performance. Not that the film requires much technique for a series of a scenes drinking, laughing and romancing. Each actor knows the atmosphere and activity well – as would most 20-40 year-olds – clearly delving into the project with ease. Wilde, as the lead, is the only one who initially seems out of place (as stunning as she is to be believed as a worker in a brewery), quickly denouncing that thought with a rough-and-ready quality that appears innate.
Johnson as her closest friend in the film brings a charm and wit so perfectly fitting to the tone of the film, and to the chemistry, that this will surely bring him a mass of new scripts. Caught between the love of a friend, and a possible lust for said friend, he develops his acting chops to constantly leave the audience and remaining characters guessing about his true feelings. It adds tremendous drama and tenderness to the film, with his cool bravado keeping the film on its toes.
Director Joe Swanberg has a filmography of relatively unknown work, capable of making great films. His style is subtle and distant – you can tell he’s letting things run their course with his finger merely on the record button. However, it’s his control of the narrative that highlights his potential as a great director. He leaves some moments untreated and awkward, and others overdone and unremitting. As you watch it you feel uncomfortable or cheated (in relation to how Hollywood usually treats these stories), reviewing it at the end to see it as a carefully structured film with the aim to get you pontificating.
The comedy is beyond genuine (thanks to the improv), leaving a gigantic smile on your face when you feel it. The drama can occasionally fall flat, as it’s expectedly harder to pull off without a script. Nevertheless, on the whole Drinking Buddies is another independent comedy/drama that will earn its stripes each passing year.
Also posted on LiveForFilms