Published on October 10th, 2013 | by Craig Silliphant0
Drinking Buddies feels like a grown up mumblecore movie, that is to say, a more polished mumblecore movie with known actors and some cash in its pocket, perhaps along the lines of a project like Cyrus was for the talented Duplass Brothers. Directed by mumblecore mainstay Joe Swanberg, the film centres on co-workers at a craft beer brewery in Chicago who have a flirtatious relationship though they are each already in relationships. In somewhat mumblecore fashion, the movie was heavily improvised, while the actors followed a plot that was set before them. And yes, you can play the mumblecore drinking game — every time I say ‘mumblecore,’ you drink. Mumblecore, mumblecore, mumblecore. Okay, I’m done now.
The cast is pretty decent, featuring Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston; they do an especially good job when you consider the level of improvisation in the film. While I do have to say that I find Olivia Wilde to be pretty generic, Jake Johnson shone through for me here. I dug him in the excellent Safety Not Guaranteed, but I could leave him in sitcoms like FOX’s New Girl. Overall though, the actors usually feel real in their roles, and comfortable. Though it’s hard to say what ended up on the cutting room floor, you have to be smart to be able to ad lib, so I give them the upmost credit for creating characters you care about. There are some great conversation scenes, and an intelligent subtext about drinking in general.
The movie is funny, if not a little too cutesy here and there. Being precious and quirky is par for the course in the indie comedy world, and while Drinking Buddies has some sublime moments of humour and character, it also feels like it’s trying too hard to straddle the line between ‘indie’ and ‘romcom’ at times. There are also some situations that feel shoehorned in, the biggest example of which being a scene where Ron Livingston takes Jake Johnson’s girlfriend on a hike while both couples spend the weekend at a cabin. This in itself is great — it’s a telling way to show the couple’s differences and sew seeds of dissent for later in the story. However, it takes a poor turn when the hike becomes a picnic with a bunch of wine. A ‘getting to know you because my boyfriend is too lazy to go for a hike’ hike is one thing, but it doesn’t seem weird to anyone that they’re having a romantic picnic together? It felt like a cheat.
There are better indie comedies and better (okay, one more time) mumblecore movies out there, even of the more polished variety, but Drinking Buddies is a solid watch. It’s definitely leagues ahead of all of the mushy-headed, star vehicle romantic comedies that plague the multiplex. And it features lots and lots of beer, so it’s got that going for it.
“We’ve just met…let’s have a romantic picnic!”