Drinking Buddies Movie Review
Small and earthy, this low-key drama simply follows a group of 30-ish characters as they use their friends to sort out their own issues. It's nicely played with a raw openness, although filmmaker Swanberg has a tendency to overdramatise scenes to make a point rather than letting things play out organically. Even so, it's sometimes painfully easy to identify with these flawed people.
The story is set around a small Chicago brewery, where Kate (Wilde) works in the office then hangs out after hours with the guys who make the beer. So she's often late arriving home to her music producer boyfriend Chris (Livingston). For a weekend away, Kate and Chris are joined by Kate's work buddy Luke (Johnson) and his girlfriend Jill (Kendrick). But as they hike in the countryside and hang out together, attraction springs up in all the wrong places. Back home, Kate and Chris decide to separate, while Jill heads off on a long-planned holiday on her own. And as Luke helps Kate put her life back together, their flirtation comes to a head.
In fine mumblecore style, this film meanders through its scenes focussing on conversations while skipping over some key moments that might have helped us understand things more clearly. It feels more like a slice of life than a plot-driven story, even though we can see early on that Kate and Luke are on a potentially messy collision course. Fortunately, both Wilde and Johnson bring offhanded honesty to their roles, creating realistically awkward interaction that bristles with possibilities. These are people at a specific point in life where they feel the need to settle down even as they're still exploring their options.
Oddly for a film set around a brewery, Swanberg continually hints that the characters' alcohol consumption is causing most of their problems, even though we never see them drunk. And there's also a moralistic tone to their relationships, as the key transgression is a stolen kiss and anything else is left ambiguously off-screen. This makes the film feel almost like Swanberg's penance for a bad decision he once made, as if he's still trying to work out what he should have done. On the other hand, movie characters are much more engaging when they make mistakes.