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SXSW 2013 Movie Review: Joe Swanberg’s ‘Drinking Buddies’
Adam Frazier   |  @   |  

Anna Kendrick

Drinking Buddies
Director: Joe Swanberg
Screenwriter: Joe Swanberg
Cast: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston, Jason Sudeikis, Ti West

Directed by Joe Swanberg (Hannah Takes the Stairs), Drinking Buddies follows the complicated friendship of Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson), who work together at a craft brewery. As friends, they’re way too close – it’s obvious there’s something more there, but Kate is dating Chris (Ron Livingston) and Luke is with all-around good girl Jill (Anna Kendrick).

The two couples go on a weekend getaway together and things get even more problematic when Jill and Chris go on a hike and find themselves romantically entangled. Meanwhile, Kate and Luke flirt while playing cards and get cozy on the beach. Without giving away the intricacies of the narrative, the four characters struggle to balance their romantic relationships and platonic friendships with the opposite sex – some with success, others with disastrous results.

In the spirit of recent films like Lynn Shelton’s Your Sister’s Sister and The Duplass Brothers’ The Do-Deca-Pentathlon, Drinking Buddies is a dramatic comedy that explores interpersonal relationships and how the culture of drink informs the bonds we make with those around us.

If you’re unfamiliar with Swanberg’s filmmaking style – it’s largely improvised. Actually, the entire script is written and re-written on a daily basis based on what happens on set. That kind of freedom to explore the characters and relationships makes the movie a more organic and genuine experience. You know these people – you’ve met them, dated them, you may even be one of them – Swanberg’s film is populated with real human beings – a rarity these days, truth be told.

I’m most impressed by the improvised performances of Johnson, Wilde, and Kendrick – who worked closely with Swanberg in shaping their characters by sharing personal relationship experiences that informed the story. Everyone has doubts about whether they’re with the right person, or if they could be happier with someone else – and Drinking Buddies soars on the uncertainty of relationships. Mix in a non-stop supply of alcohol to cloud your judgment, and the mixed signals are amplified that much more.

This movie is an honest, sometimes ugly, depiction of relationships and the moments that force us to consider, or accept, who we will spend the rest of our lives with. Drinking Buddies will be Joe Swanberg’s coming-out party, exposing the filmmaker to larger crowds dying to see something authentic on the screen. While Swanberg certainly isn’t a newcomer (he’s directed 18 films since 2005), he’s an indie filmmaker who has managed to stay indie – but if he keeps making movies as good as Drinking Buddies, his days of mainstream obscurity are numbered.

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PS: Fellow indie filmmaker Ti West (House of the Devil, The Innkeepers) shows up in Drinking Buddies as a craft brewer who sleeps with Olivia Wilde’s character. Swanberg acted in West’s V/H/S segment, so I guess he’s returning the favor here. West definitely got the better end of the deal.

[Image courtesy of Shutterstock.]

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