Published Sep 05, 2013Can men and women co-exist as friends and remain platonic? In the event that they're able to, will their respective significant others manage their jealousy and doubt? What if their actions are misinterpreted, blurring the line between friendship and something more? Joe Swanberg (a highly prolific mumblecore proponent and spearheader who began his career directing Kissing on the Mouth, a film that, amongst other things, featured him ejaculating on-camera) tackles this notion with Drinking Buddies, furthering his auteur trajectory into more of a mainstream lexicon while remaining true to his roots in detailing realistic human relationships.
Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) are "buddies" that work together at a brewery. Seemingly, they have the perfect dynamic for a relationship, spending much of their free time together at pubs, chugging brews and constantly flirting, except they're both in relationships with other people. Kate has been dating Chris (Ron Livingston), a more serious, straight-laced conservative, while Luke and girlfriend Jill (Anna Kendrick) have lived together for quite some time, with the topic of marriage in their future.
During a couples' cottage getaway, Kate and Luke's friendship drives the dynamic of the four, resulting in an abundance of drunken anecdotes and desultory commentary, while their respective partners, trying to engage as best they can, ultimately watch on. The fact that Kate and Luke spend so much time together is an obvious recipe for disaster and if the scenario sounds familiar, it's likely because a plethora of rom-coms have utilized this formula.
Fortunately, Swanberg isn't interested in making a standard morality play, leaving Kate and Luke to utilize each other as vessels for introspective avoidance, while Chris and Jill awkwardly attempt to forge a similar bond, going off for a hike while their partners get hammered, misinterpreting the scenario and sharing a kiss.
This weekend plants the seeds of doubt and guilt in Chris and Jill, with Chris starting to question the plausibility of dating such a free, alcoholic spirit, while Jill overanalyzes her actions and internalizes the scenario, acting out indirectly. As the story progresses, Kate and Luke, though seemingly meant for each other, are forced into the non-verbalized realization that they may be far too alike to elevate their friendship to that successful next level.
Though this isn't a particularly fresh plotline, the avoidance of clichés in presenting several complex relationships, in addition to the phenomenal acting from the film's leads, makes it feel unique and special. Swanberg elicits some incredibly natural performances from his cast, which is likely due to the fact that much of the film was entirely improvised — one can't help but wonder how incredibly inebriated the leads were while filming many of the scenes — allowing the actors freedom in inhabiting their characters.
The result is a work that possesses a broader audience appeal than that of the usual mumblecore fare. Swanberg has crafted a genuine, heartfelt look at friendship and the ways it can be distorted into an act of self-destructive behaviour, representing internalized struggles that typically remain beneath the surface.
We don't need to be hit over the head to realize that sometimes people are better off as just friends. (Mongrel Media)