Movie Review: Drinking Buddies (2013)

Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) are co-workers at a Chicago microbrewery, and they’re also great friends.  It’s clear that the two like each other a great deal, and their sexual tension simmers just below the surface, but neither one of them acts on it.  And why would they?  They’re both dating other people.  Kate’s time is spent with a wealthy older man named Chris (Ron Livingston), and Luke has been with his sweet girlfriend Jill (Anna Kendrick) for a very, very long time.  But over the course of several weeks, the dynamic between these four changes.  Along the way, they consume a lot of beer.

The first thing you should know is that this film, written and directed by Joe Swanberg, didn’t have a written script.  Almost entirely improvised from a detailed, original outline by Swanberg, the film succeeds largely because of the crazy, insane chemistry of the cast.  Seriously, the four actors that make up the majority of this movie share some of the best onscreen chemistry you’ll see this year, if not ever.  Their ability to work off of one another and improvise without over-thinking their characters’ motivations make this movie completely riveting, and completely genuine.

Although the general premise of the film is one we have seen before, it’s been a while since it was approached with such nuance.  The fact that both of the stars are in happy relationships adds an interesting paradox to what is transpiring onscreen.  The heat between Kate and Luke is safe as long as they are paired off with other people.  When Kate finds herself alone, though, Luke has to start to question whether or not he wants to be with the woman he loves or the woman that he could, maybe, love.

This is not a plot-driven movie.  It’s not even really all that driven by its characters, so if you’re looking for a fast-paced comedy or a raucous romp with these incredibly talented actors, you’ll have to look elsewhere.  What this movie really does is fully examine a single scenario, and the result is so real and so fascinating that it’s impossible to look away. So much of that credit has to be given to the actors, who really shine in their roles.

Johnson is the standout here, as he proves yet again that he’s a great, versatile actor.  He does a lot of the heavy lifting, but he’s helped out by his castmates.  Wilde is absolutely luminous in her most accessible role to date, as an assertive and strong female unafraid to instigate trouble and knock back more than a few craft beers.  Kendrick is also notable for a much more subdued role than is her normal fare, and Livingston is too damn good for you to dislike him.

It’s a few days later, and I’m still thinking about this one.  I’m still thinking about the characters, and the powerful performances of the cast.  This is one that will stay with me, and it’s one I plan on revisiting–soon.

Drinking Buddies is out now on iTunes, Amazon, and other VOD services.  It will be released theatrically in late August.

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