By Stacey Gillard
Every so often a movie comes along that is so predictable and clichéd it hurts. Drinking Buddies is NOT one of them. I’ll be honest and say that I had no idea what the premise was when I ordered it on demand in a post-Christmas, slightly alcohol-induced haze. I’d seen the previews and thought it looked good for a laugh and that was about all I needed. Expecting an off-colour run-of-the-mill romantic comedy I was instead blown away by director/writer Joe Swanberg’s unique take on how complicated friendships with people of the opposite sex can be.
Let me qualify my labelling of “romantic comedy”. I’ve read many reviews that balk at this categorization but in the truest sense of the genre, this was an amusing movie with elements of the romantic to it. So I’m sticking with my theory that Drinking Buddies is, indeed, a rom-com. That’s about where the similarity with any other classic romantic comedy ends, though.
Jake Johnson (New Girl) and Olivia Wilde (House) are Luke and Kate, co-workers at a Chicago brewery and who, as the title would suggest, enjoy a drink or two after work most nights. Luke is in a long-term relationship with Jill (Anna Kendrick, Up In The Air); they’re happy with each other but falteringly and less than comfortably are discussing the possibility of marriage. Jill feels it’s time to progress their relationship while Luke is happy with the status quo. Kate has been seeing Chris (Ron Livingston, Office Space) for 8 months. It is immediately apparent they’re in different places in their lives and seem very wrong for each other. Kate is a free-spirit while Chris gets upset when she doesn’t use a coaster for her glass. Scenes between them are uncomfortable from the very beginning of the movie. Things get complicated when the two couples head to the beach for a weekend getaway and the insecurities each of them has about their relationships, coupled with chemistry Luke and Kate share leads to an unfortunate kiss between Jill and Chris, possibly one of the most awkward scenes of the movie! Once back home, Luke struggles with his jealousy of Kate’s relationships, confused about his feelings for her as he considers committing further to Jill.
What makes this movie experience unique is that the entire thing was improvised. The talent of the actors is showcased by their ability to carry on relevant conversations without the assistance of a script while never making the viewer question the direction the scenes are taking. There’s an almost voyeuristic quality to the movie, hand-held cameras adding to that feeling, as we watch the characters live their day-to-day lives. The comedy of the movie is subtle and true-to-life, as is the romance; it’s hard-hitting, at times heartbreaking. Jill and Luke’s conversations about marriage, their obvious love for each other but inability to communicate, is something every one of us can relate to on some level. The unspoken question of Kate and Luke’s evolving friendship is punctuated by looks and pauses that all of us have experienced at some point. I feel the point of the movie is that the viewer will be able to identify with one, if not all, of the characters which makes it easy to connect with each of them.
I’ve seen some negative reviews of Drinking Buddies – Swanberg enjoys tweeting them – and a lot of them seem to focus on the fact that the movie doesn’t end how anyone would expect it to. Thank goodness for that. While there’s definitely a time and place for clichés, the films that make an impression on me are the ones that surprise me. It’s definitely not for everyone, but what I can say is that this movie put me through the ringer of emotions, from incredibly uncomfortable, to highly amused and all points in between, and what will stay with me is that by the end I had a smile on my face. Sometimes that’s all you need.