Horror fans will likely recognize Joe Swanberg as the nerve-grating older brother that was shot in the back with an arrow in “You’re Next” and probably remember the disturbing short he directed for “V/H/S” involving Emily, the bump on her arm, and aliens. “Drinking Buddies” is a more lighthearted but genuine side of the multi-talented (actor, director, writer, producer, and often cinematographer) Swanberg. The comedy is noteworthy for being completely improvised and having no script. While the film’s spontaneity is admirable, the awkward structure of “Drinking Buddies” restrains it from making much of an impact overall.
Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) are best friends who work together at a beer factory called Revolution Brew. They spend a lot of their free time together and are constantly flirting with one another. An eventual hookup seems inevitable except that Kate has been seeing a music producer named Chris (Ron Livingston) for eight months and Luke is far enough along into his relationship with Jill (Anna Kendrick) that they’re already planning their marriage. The four of them begin to hit it off, but things get a bit more complicated when they all take a trip to Michigan.
“Drinking Buddies” is really an appropriate name for the film. Not only does it describe Kate and Luke’s relationship perfectly, but the film is mostly people sitting around talking while drinking. It’s a simple concept, but at the same time it’s as if you’re getting the chance to become a part of the daily lives of these characters. Getting into that mindset is a serious plus since it makes it seem like there’s much more depth to these characters than there really is.
This is where the film’s impulsive nature starts to work against it. While there are key events in the film that drive the story along everything in between feels rather unremarkable. The film is a comedy, but nothing really makes you laugh. Maybe it’ll be different for people who actually drink. In between the comedy, there isn’t enough drama or enough romance to really make you care about the few twists and turns along the way. You’re mostly just witnessing strangers talk at a bar or in an apartment and it’s expected to be amusing. The resolve isn’t very satisfying either. There’s obviously a connection between Kate and Luke, but the choices they make don’t really make any sense. They show all the emotions of jealous lovers, but never really capitalize on that. You’ve probably never seen a movie end with the passing of a banana, but you’re about to.
“Drinking Buddies” is the type of film that seems like it was a really fascinating idea on paper. Being nearly entirely improvised deserves some sort of recognition, but at the same time it lacks the absorbing qualities a polished script and amusing story can contribute. Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde give some passionate performances, but “Drinking Buddies” is otherwise nothing more than a drunken blur that you’ll likely forget about by morning. “Drinking Buddies” is to drinking what “Waiting…” is to the food industry.
“Drinking Buddies” begins its theatrical run in Houston at the Alamo Drafthouse Mason Park location beginning Friday, August 30.