When it comes to relationships with the opposite sex, adding large quantities of beer into the already-combustible male-female mix has often led to moments of passion, hilarity and outright disaster. Drinking Buddies, opening in Atlanta on Aug. 30, follows a platonic boy-girl duo who chase their time together with copious amount of beer – and who, alas, are romantically attached to others.
Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) are coworkers at a brewery. Kate handles PR and marketing, while Luke helps concoct some tasty-looking brewskies. In between they eat lunch together, joke around and drink pints of beer at all hours of the day.
When not drinking and flirting inside and out of the workplace, they spend the occasional moment with their respective others. Kate is in a relationship with Chris (Ron Livingston, offering the low-key charm he brought to Office Space and Swingers), an older music producer she’s been dating for eight months. As for Luke, he’s been living with his long-term girlfriend Jill (Anna Kendrick), and lately the topic of marriage has been coming up, a prospect that Luke eyes with about as much excitement as a day without beer.
Eventually the foursome crosses paths, first at a brewery function and later at a lake house weekend getaway. Innuendos are exchanged and sparks fly, but not necessarily how you’d expect. Will Kate and Luke ever express their feelings for one another, and if so what will the result be?
With Drinking Buddies, indie mumblecore maestro Joe Swanberg (Hannah Takes the Stairs) makes the jump to bigger budgets and bigger stars with mixed results. As writer, director and editor, Swanberg shows a keen eye for the awkward pauses and long silences that often play as big a role in shaping relationships as the deep conversations and knock-out-drag-out fights (which are also handled well here).
The film’s biggest hurdle, though, is the casting of Wilde in the lead role. She gives a game performance, but every time the viewer has to reconcile Kate’s beer-swilling, junk-food-eating, dating-challenged character with Wilde’s svelte Hollywood starlet appearance, it requires a suspension of belief that threatens to derail the film. Still, the cast does solid work overall.
Setting a film in the world of craft beer is a genius move, but it seems like Swanberg could have gotten more out of this setting. Aside from a choice Livingston description of a beer he’s just tasted as “skinned knees and jelly sandwiches and dark clouds of puberty on the horizon,” the booze-related dialogue and revelry in Drinking Buddies is a bit muted considering all the imbibing going on. Perhaps a little more of the loose-cannon hijinks an unbilled Jason Sudeikis delivers might have helped.
Thought Drinking Buddies may not be as funny as you’d like, credit Swanberg for keeping it real when it comes to the interplay between characters. Their exchanges never feel forced or fake, a welcome attribute given the formulaic nature of most romantic comedies.
Best of all, Swanberg serves up a gutsy ending that’s not the least bit homogenized for mainstream audiences. Though it might not be as tasty as a Red Brick 20th Anniversary Imperial Stout or a Wrecking Ball Neal’s Hop Noggin IPA, Drinking Buddies is no watered-down domestic either. It’s worth a sampling.
"Drinking Buddies" opens in Atlanta on August 30 at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.
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