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MIFF 2013 Review: Drinking Buddies (2013) — A Loosely Scripted but Massively Charming Bender

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Independent darling and micro-budget director extraordinaire Joe Swanberg has been a busy guy: he has over a dozen directing credits to his name in the past ten years, not to mention a large number of acting appearances and producing credits. A pioneer of the “mumblecore” movement has certainly been churning out the features, which have honestly not made any major waves outside of the festival circuit. The romantic comedy Drinking Buddies may be his mainstream breakthrough picture; a slightly higher budget has brought with it a more recognisable cast, which in turn should make it more attractive to a wider audience. The good thing is that Drinking Buddies does deserve a wider audience due to its charming leads and realistic take on modern romance.

This promo pic is phony: Jake Johnson has a beard throughout the movie.

This promo pic is phony: Jake Johnson has a beard throughout the movie.

The film follows Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson), workers at a Chicago brewery. They share an undeniable chemistry; they drink hard and they flirt hard. These feelings go unspoken due to both of them being in relationships with other people (Ron Livingston and Anna Kendrick, respectively). Things come to a head when the two couples take a weekend vacation that rocks the foundations of both these partnerships, who then have to traverse rocky terrain filled with sexual tensions and relationship hurdles.

The major thing Drinking Buddies has going for it is the palpable, undeniable chemistry between the four leads. So rare is it to witness a film where the main characters are so naturally charming and down-to-earth, even when the narrative becomes a bit dour. This is due in part to Swanberg’s style of shooting with no scripted dialogue, instead giving the actors a certain direction and letting them run with it.

In the wrong hands this relaxed form of direction could be disastrous, but in this case the talented actors casually weave their way through the narrative in a way that leaves the audience fully invested in their characters. It’s also clear that due to the prevalent improvisation that the actors are probably just charming people in real-life, and at times it is easy to forget that these are characters and not just Wilde and Johnson boozing it up as friends (they could very well have been for a lot of this shoot, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt). Point being that only a certain kind of actor would be able to flourish in an environment like Swanberg’s, and the casting here was perfect.

Here it is: here's that beard!

Here it is: here’s that beard!

Due to the improvised dialogue, this winds up being one of the most authentic romantic comedies of recent memory. Instead of the glossy, corporate, and phony romantic clunkers which Hollywood churns out regularly (Katherine Heigl, I’m looking at you!), Drinking Buddies captures the essence of romance, friendship, and related dramas in realistic, everyday relationships. Silver Linings Playbook was a fantastic portrayal of real relationships right up until the clichéd, sappy ending — and although it may not be the popular option, Drinking Buddies does not fall into this trap; ultimately offering a suitably low-key resolution (if you could call it that).

While the standard Hollywood model has nearly  sucked the life out of the entire genre, films like Drinking Buddies (also The Spectacular Now) offer a glimmer of hope in an otherwise increasingly unrealistic and condescending catalogue of romantic comedies. A mainstream breakthrough for not only Joe Swanberg, but finally a starring vehicle worthy of Olivia Wilde’s talent.

Llama Score: 8Drinking Buddies, with the benefit of an immensely charming cast and largely improvised dialogue, is one of the better studies of realistic human relationships seen in the last ten years. The cast has charisma to spare in an authentic storyline and setting. This is what romantic comedies should strive to be.

Award: Golden LlamaAward: Lorne Michaels

Highlights Banner

– Anna Kendrick and Olivia Wilde light up every scene. Jake Johnson isn’t to shabby, either.

Lowlights Banner

– The mumblecore style may seem meandering for newcomers and a lack of resolution will frustrate some.

Further Viewing Banner

– Safety Not Guaranteed

– The Spectacular Now

– Silver Linings Playbook

Directed by: Joe Swanberg Written by: Joe Swanberg Produced by: Sam Slater, Paul Bernon, Alicia Van Couvering, Andrea Roa Starring: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston Distributed by: Magnolia Pictures Run length: 90 minutes Australian Release: Full release TBA
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  1. The Best Films of 2013 | Sorry I'm Late.com

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