Craig's First Take: "Drinking Buddies"

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Drinking Buddies is a 2013 American comedy film written and directed by Joe Swanberg, and starring Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston. The film is about two co-workers at a craft brewery in Chicago, who struggle with romantic feelings for one another despite both being in a relationship with someone else.

We’ve seen romantic comedies before where we ask ourselves why are these two people together? In “Drinking Buddies” there is a couple so in-tuned with each other that you wonder how they could be with other people who aren’t nearly as soul-matey. It’s the charm of Joe Swanberg’s movie, who played one of the family members in “You’re Next” and apparently directed more than 10 films before this which I’d be surprised if anyone has heard of (Ouch!), that it plays like a Woody Allen movie if Woody Allen ever decided to make a film about young people who have even a fraction of a doubt about the relationships they’re in.

Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson (Nick on “New Girl) play Kate and Luke, co-workers at a Chicago brewery whose friendship borders on all things intimate without ever really having sex. They talk about everything, playfully rib each other (even sticking fingers into each others food and beer), and stay out drinking til all hours of the morning. Kate is with Chris (Ron Livingston) while Luke is with Jill (Anna Kendrick). All four wind up staying at Chris’ beach house for the weekend where the couples get mixed. Chris and Jill end up taking a hike where he even admits he wonders what the attraction is in his relationship. Kate and Luke stay behind and the friendly closeness they share continues to take up most of their time.

When one of the relationships falls apart, it’s nicely observed how the other person no longer sees that wall between friendship and love and begins to question what they want. And as that relationship is deleted, it’s interesting how the playful friendliness begins to lead into a more serious, sometimes difficult, and emotionally honest place. Johnson and Wilde are terrific here; smart, likable, and acting in the same cautious yet hopeful manner that a regular person in this situation would react. Wilde is particularly good here, playing a “just one of the guys” girl effortlessly. It works because it feels real.

Where “Drinking Buddies” lacks in subtlety, momentum, and humor, Swanberg does a nice job of looking at relationships and leads us to wonder what exactly makes them work so well. Can friends work as lovers? Is it true what they say about opposites attracting being best? Or is it all just a matter of timing and circumstance? With Wilde and Johnson in the drivers seat, it’s a cute and effective film that doesn’t pander to dumb romantic comedy clichés.