‘Drinking Buddies’ Movie Review – One and Done
From middle school to high school to apparently twenty or thirtysomethings, a common debate has been: can a guy be “just friends” with a girl (and vice versa)? While we all like to think this could happen, the realistic answer is: probably not. Usually, someone (read: the guy) in the relationship wants something more. Drinking Buddies is precisely, and almost exclusively, about this topic. Since I was admittedly wrong about the direction of the finale, I’m compelled to give the movie some sort of brownie points. The truth of the matter is Joe Swanberg’s (V/H/S) newest is a mumblecore attack on the romantic comedy genre that features a great cast…but is a once-and-you’re-done type of movie.
Based in Chicago, Drinking Buddies tells the story of two friends involved in two different relationships that have feelings for one another. The “feelings” are the complicated part, though, because while they’re both flirting with each other, neither wants to acknowledge the elephant in the room.
The two friends are Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson). Complicating their relationship are their significant others, Chris (Ron Livingston) and Jill (Anna Kendrick). It also doesn’t help that the two are almost always drinking, both because they work in a brewery and because they’re social beings.
From the onset, it’s pretty easy to see where the story is probably going, even without a synopsis. There is a flirtatious nature to everything Kate and Luke do. However, like any movie, they have to introduce something that blocks them from pursuing each other. So, of course, they’re both tied to a long-term relationship. It’s the oldest trick in the book.
However, I’m not sure Drinking Buddies had another choice. Swanberg (also the writer) did have a choice, though, when it came to the plot progression. The most bothersome part of the entire movie is the various contrived situations. What do you expect will happen when two opposite sex characters take a hike in the forest with a bottle of wine? It’s too expected.
With that being said, Drinking Buddies does end significantly better than I expected. With the “romantic comedy” tag, you and I could both see a pretty clear outcome forming on the horizon. Instead of completely living up to the expectation, Drinking Buddies doesn’t really answer the chief question.
It’s tough to decide if that’s a good or bad thing because you’d think it’s their job to answer the question they pose. On the other hand, making the audience draw their own conclusions is often times a more suitable approach.
What’s not tough, though, is appreciating both the main relationship (however complicated it is) and the performances behind it. Wilde and Johnson use the mumblecore/improv aspect perfectly, creating a lot of natural conversations. Although it’s a somewhat fair comparison to Richard Linklater’s Before franchise, the scenes in Drinking Buddies do miss out on the introspectiveness of those flawless scenes.
Ultimately, the movie is tough to recommend for multiple viewings. The story is just fine, and while Johnson, in particular, tries hard to be a likable character, the relationship isn’t one you long to rediscover. Fair or unfair, comparing it to other love (and anti-love) stories, there’s just something missing.
I still can’t put my thumb on what is wrong with Drinking Buddies. Rather than continue to try, I think I’ll finish this review by simply categorizing this film as “good…at times.” I think it’s partially a movie that needs the right frame-of-mind. Sometimes, we don’t get the luxury of timing, so perhaps that’s an underlying issue on a personal level. Still, timing or not, the movie makes use of the familiar cast and some great improv to put a small twist on the overused genre. That statement alone is a compliment.
Drinking Buddies released on the web July 25th. It is available with a limited theatrical release, starting with L.A. today.
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