Tuesday, December 10, 2013
I've spent more time reading about ultra low-budget auteur Joe Swanberg than I have watching his movies, so I don't know if Drinking Buddies is his best work but I'm pretty sure it's the closest he has come to a mainstream relationship film. Luke (Jake Johnson) and Kate (Olivia Wilde) work together at a Chicago brewery and are frequent hangout buddies over after-work beers, but both are in other relationships. Luke loves long term girlfriend Jill (Anna Kendrick) while Kate is reaching a transition point with the more restrained Chris (Ron Livingston). Fault lines are revealed when the couples take a weekend at Chris's cabin in Michigan but Swanberg never pushes the melodrama or forces our reaction. Wilde is the revelation here, playing a woman who doesn't even understand her own need for connection. The conclusion is refreshingly low-key and open ended and while I admire Swanberg's devotion to the Luke-Kate relationship I wanted more of the marriage-ready Jill, whose last scene hints at an intensity that the movie doesn't have enough time for. There's a shot of Johnson and Kendrick together on the deleted scenes that's like something out of Cassavetes. Swanberg wrote an outline but had his actors improvise their dialogue, there are a few slow moments but the tensions in each scene are nicely articulated. I don't know what Swanberg has planned for the next act of his career, but Drinking Buddies proves that his small-scale style can work on a bigger stage.