mon 20/05/2019

Drinking Buddies | reviews, news & interviews

Drinking Buddies

Drinking Buddies

Sex and friendship get messy in a funny, sharp, realist romcom

Sleepover: best friends Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) blur some boundaries

Orgasms aside, it was When Harry Met Sally’s edict that sex always gets in the way of male-female friendships that hit home. Drinking Buddies comes to more nuanced conclusions, as we watch Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) steadily drink and comfortably banter during and after work at a Chicago micro-brewery, and wonder just when they’re going to leave their straitlaced partners, Chris (Ron Livingston) and Jill (Anna Kendrick), pictured below. When a double-date weekend in the woods sees Kate strip off in front of Luke, and Jill dig into her rucksack’s wilderness gear for a cheeseboard while hiking with Chris, surely the prissy and pisshead partners will pair up?

Wholly improvised dialogue is a trademark of mumblecore auteur Joe Swanberg, and Wilde and Johnson especially spark like a lo-fi, infantile Bacall and Bogart. Wilde’s sharp eyes hover between alert and buzzed as she keeps pace at work and play with the brewery’s all-male staff (mostly actual workers at the brewery where they filmed). Johnson’s beard hides the face familiar from TV’s The New Girl and gives him a warm, earnest, ageing indie kid aspect. As the needle drops on LPs from Midwest indie label Secretly Canadian at everyone’s apartments, this is a hip, appealing world, far from the Hollywood romcom’s huge homes and airbrushed cuteness. The same romantic dramas play out. But Swanberg’s desire for his characters to mirror his actors, from their experiences to daily mood-swings, helps a film which is highly schematic in its own way feel real.

That means that the crunch between Kate and Luke, when he helps her move apartments while Jill, pining for marriage, is away, isn't a pretty sight. There’s literal blood on the tracks as selfish motives spill out, the satisfied impulses Kate’s looks and charm have made her used to and Luke’s wish for sex to get in the way collide, and their idealised views of each other take a battering.

Swanberg’s most recent UK release was his segment of the “mumblegore” horror anthology V/H/S. It was the most memorable and sheerly terrifying tale, constructed from the naturalistic horror of someone creeping round your room while you’re asleep, and a fatally untrustworthy partner. Drinking Buddies’ flawed friends and lovers are all much more likeable than that, but low-key emotional realism with sharp detail and pace are the writer-director-editor’s strengths. Drinking Buddies was Swanberg’s first experience with a professional Hollywood crew, required by its relatively expansive settings and name actors. Rather than be compromised, he has honed his skills, making a truthful film mainstream audiences can enjoy. What a relationship takes and what a friendship can be are worked through, lessons sort of learned, moralising mostly dodged, and beers still drunk. Life for his bumbling, wise-cracking, charming quartet will go on, you can easily imagine, long after the credits roll.

Overleaf: watch the trailer for Drinking Buddies 

There’s literal blood on the tracks as their idealised views of each other take a battering


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Explore topics

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters