Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Drinking Buddies

Directed by Joe Swanberg.
2013. Rated R, 90 minutes.

Kate (Wilde) and Luke (Johnson) work at the local brewery. After a long, but usually fun day at work, they tend to head down to the nearest bar with a number of their other co-workers and drink lots of their own product. It is painfully obvious the two have a thing for each other. The issue here is two-fold: 1) Each is involved in a serious relationship with someone else, and 2) Neither of them will own up to how they feel about the other. Instead, they flirt endlessly. They do it that way people do when they have a really strong connection. Of course, they think it is mere friendship. So Kate thinks it's no big deal to invite Luke and his girlfriend Jill (Kendrick) up to her boyfriend Chris' (Livingston) beach house for the weekend. They accept. Life rolls on from there.

When I say 'life rolls on,' that's probably the best compliment I can give this movie. It's a true slice-of-life flick in every sense of the term. There really is no plot. Everything about our leads are just the facts of who they are, not set ups for some grand character arc. Finally, Drinking Buddies doesn't end so much as it just stops. When it does, I wouldn't blame anyone who throws their arms up and says "WTF!" when the final credits roll. I suspect that's what's behind the disparity between how critics view this movie and how normal folks see it. Critics have praised it while audiences are rather lukewarm toward it. The things it doesn't have are the things we've been trained to expect from our films. Without those things we're left with a feeling of uncertainty about what we just watched. A movie lacking a definitive beginning, middle, and end might not immediately make sense to us.

Enjoying DB requires a willingness to take it on its own terms and, perhaps, actually thinking about it afterwards. That's because we may have to sort some things out. It does what I often knock other movies for not doing. It shows, not tells. Counter intuitive to that sentiment, this movie is much more noun than verb. It is something that is, not something that does. We're used to our visual media "doing" for us. It sticks around until the bad guy is caught and the hero gets the girl. Little to no effort is required of us. Therefore, most of us don't have the energy for a movie with a figurative test at the end. I like this movie. That's not to say I'm smarter than people who don't. I'm just more willing to put in the work necessary to appreciate it.

I feel like I've rambled quite a bit without saying much about the actual film. There really are reasons to enjoy it as it goes along. Right away, it positions itself as a dramedy. It makes us laugh, but that's not necessarily it's aim. It's more about exploring the relationship between Kate and Luke. Whatever drama or humor that comes out of this is organic to the human experience, not gags or overly contrived melodrama. To their credit, our stars are an immense help in this area. Both Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson deliver completely natural performances. Wilde is particularly good. Her best acting is done by her eyes during pauses in dialogue. When she speaks, she feels like a woman we might know. The same is true for Johnson. Well, he sounds like a man we might know, not a woman. You understand. Through the two of them, we sense these are people who are aware of their feelings, but struggling mightily not to act upon them. Immediately, we start wondering "will they," or "won't they." This uncertainty drives the movie. Our curiosity happily rides along on this train. I like where it drops us off. I'm not sure you will.


  1. Good review Dell. Loved the cast here. As they not only make this movie more entertaining, but feel real and somewhat raw.

    1. They feel totally real. That's a big part of its appeal for me. Thanks.