Like a cool craft beer on a hot day, Joe Swanberg’s “Drinking Buddies” is an appealing and authentic relationship study starring Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston. Like the craft beverage, the film goes down smoothly.
Taking place mostly in and around a craft brewery, Kate (Wilde) is like one of the guys, especially since she’s one of the only females in this male-dominated workplace. Working more on the client relationship side of the business, Kate can turn on the charm, yet she can also throw a few back, banter, and play pool like the rest of the guys. Her best friend, Luke (Johnson) works as a brewer, and their relationship is charming, boozy and platonic. Luke has a special-ed teaching girlfriend, Jill (Kendrick) and Kate is seeing a bookish music producer, Chris (Livingston).
From the outside looking in, one wonders if Kate and Luke weren’t more suited for one another. As situations play out, especially during and after the two couples spend a weekend at Chris’s lakefront cabin, Kate and Luke might just wonder that themselves. Chris and Jill do some soul-searching as well.
Writer/director/editor Swanberg constructs an honest look at male-female relationships against a lively brewery backdrop. Taking his inspiration from 1970’s relationship comedies, “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” and Elaine May’s “The Heartbreak Kid,” Swanberg proclaimed in his film’s production notes, “The most important lesson I took from these films is that they never forgot to be funny, which earned them the space to also be complex and challenging.”
Swanberg is also a self-made home brewer and has numerous friends in the craft beer business. Shooting “Drinking Buddies” in an actual brewery, Swanberg and team had to be conscious not to interrupt the real business, and the head brewer, Jim Cibak took Johnson under his wing to teach him the art of making beer. Swanberg also states in his film notes that “All of the employees at the brewery have cameos in the film …. It felt like a cultural exchange in the best way!”
From his indies, including “Hannah Takes the Stairs” and “V/H/S,” Swanberg is known for collaborating with his actors on creating the script’s dialog and characters’ inner lives. He outlines the story but continues the writing process with the actors, even as the film is rolling. It’s the type of adventurous freedom that some actors love to experiment with and these four – Wilde, Johnson, Kendrick and Livingston are winning collaborators. (One can only imagine, the disastrous turn a film like this could take with less talented actors.)
Luckily for us, “Drinking Buddies” is a cool respite after a summer filled with bloated action films. Opening exclusively in Los Angeles at the Nuart Theatre on August 30 for one week, “Drinking Buddies” is the perfect film to see over the Labor Day weekend before heading off for a nice Pilsner or Hefeweizen.
“Drinking Buddies” is 90 minutes and Rated R. It plays in Los Angeles at the Nuart. It’s also available on iTunes and On Demand.