Just in time for holiday imbibing, Drinking Buddies releases to the home market today. Easy to mistake for a rom-com, the film – boasting Olivia Wilde’s best performance – is a meandering observation on slacker generation relationships. It’s clever, assured, and forever surprising.
For a bleaker set of drinking buddies, check out the 1987 gem Barfly. This Charles Bukowski penned, Barbet Schroeder directed tale of ne’er do well Henry Chinaski is classic skid row glory (so, classic Bukowski). Mickey Rourke was never better (though his cadence takes some getting used to), and his screen chemistry with Faye Dunaway makes this the most faithful rendition of Chinaski to be found onscreen. Too bad you can’t get the movie from Netflix. Guess you’ll have to watch the whole thing here.
Hey look! It’s that hottie and that cutie, and the guy from Office Space and that other guy from TV in a romantic comedy about drinking beer. Nice!
Well, as it turns out, Drinking Buddies may not be quite what you’re expecting, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Rather than a by the numbers rom-com with a comfortable ending designed to send the folks home happy, writer/director Joe Swanberg delivers a loose, observational drama that focuses on small moments in unfulfilled lives.
Olivia Wilde takes the lead as Kate, who works at a Chicago brewery with her best buddy Luke (Jake Johnson from TV’s New Girl). Though Luke is talking marriage with his longtime girlfriend Jill (Anna Kendrick) and Kate has just started seeing Chris (Ron Livingston), the co workers continue to nurture their “why don’t they just do it already” friendship.
Though not quite a full on mumblecore project, Drinking Buddies certainly passes through the neighborhood. Many scenes meander with a highly improvised, aimless approach, while Swanberg keeps the film bathed in the gritty look of persistent realism.
The action rarely gets beyond hanging out, drinking, and talking about relationships, but you slowly come to appreciate how little the characters do what you think they will. After the two couples spend a weekend at Chris’s lakeside cabin, certain priorities are re-evaluated, and the film’s soft focus on the quest for knowing what you want becomes increasingly clear.
The actors all mesh well, with Wilde giving her most assured performance yet. Kate is a damaged soul, and Wilde is able to get beneath the “one of the guys” party girl persona to reveal layers of vulnerability, hurt and anger.
Though it’s far from the When Harry Met Sally treatment of platonic friendships, Drinking Buddies has a charm, wit and wisdom that may make it the perfect reboot for today.