Drinking Buddies

Drinking Buddies

  • Because of humor, strong dramatic timing and terrific central performances, Writer/Director Joe Swanburg’s Drinking Buddies is mostly successful.
  • Start with the performances. In 2012’s Safety Not Guaranteed, Jake Johnson proved himself a heavyweight actor, one capable of shifting seamlessly between comedy and drama, sometimes in the same scene. He does the same in Drinking Buddies. Because of Johnson’s soulful performance, we know Luke is a conflicted man who cannot decide what he wants from life.
  • As Kate, Olivia Wilde is even better, at least partially because her character is defined simplistically. She is infatuated with an unavailable man, uses her sexuality (and beer) to get attention from men about whom she only loosely cares, and is near emotionally broken. And that’s all we know about her.
  • Wilde, therefore, has a difficult assignment; she must give the illusion that her weakly-written character is multi-dimensional. If she fails, Drinking Buddies, as a character centric movie, fails.
  • Good thing she succeeds. Through force of personality, subtle facial expressions and reserved emotion, Wilde vitalizes Kate in ways the screenplay does not. She is proof that a talented actor can sometimes overcome a script’s flaws.
  • Which is not to say Swanburg’s screenplay is bad. His dialogue is witty, and his pace is crisp. More importantly, he seamlessly combines understated humor and emotional intensity.
  • Plus, Drinking Buddies’ wordless final scene is one of my favorite endings from 2013.
  • Swanburg’s direction is actually better than his writing. By limiting camera movements, cuts, and other filmmaking tricks, Swanburg allows us to observe his characters, much as we would if they were on stage instead of on screen.
  • More importantly, when the camera moves or when he cuts between angles, Swanburg does so for good reason, each time to appropriately increase or decrease our sense of intimacy, and thereby to heighten emotion.
  • Which is all the more reason Swanburg disappoints when he removes potential emotional explosiveness. After a camping trip, Chris (Ron Livingston) and Kate have an important conversation. We don’t see it. Later, they have a second, equally important conversation. And again we don’t see it. After that, Luke and Jill (a terrific Anna Kendrick) finally experiment with open honesty, but the scene is cut short, not developing beyond surface level interaction. At times, it feels as though Swanburg is artificially limiting Drinking Buddies’ emotion.
  • Moreover, while his movie is fun observational comedy/drama, it has limited thematic application to viewers’ lives. I enjoyed Drinking Buddies, but I am not sure what it means or why it’s important.
  • Still, because of strong performances and omnipresent humor, Drinking Buddies is mostly successful and worth viewing.
  • Final Grade: B-

31 thoughts on “Drinking Buddies

    • Thank you. Sounds like you enjoyed this one a touch more than me, but I like it, too, even if I wouldn’t call it best of the year material.

      I actually deliberated between a B and a B-minus, through. Well, truthfully, I’m still deliberating. If you can tell me the larger theme I’m missing, I’ll increase the grade this instant. πŸ™‚

  1. I was amazed by Wilde in this. Also really impressed with Johnson, but Wilde stole the show for me. Enjoyed this one, a lot, one of my surprises of last year. Nice breakdown you did, great read.

      • It was great thanks mate! It was uneventful enough, which at my age now is a good thing because I wouldn’t want to break a hip or anything. πŸ˜‰

        Hope you had a nice weekend yourself!

      • finally saw it. I liked it, but didn’t love it.

        Wilde is really the stand out here.

        I agree with you 100% that they should have shown us more of those particular scenes. It feels like they just cut it at the best points.

        BTW, I read that every scene was improvised with the actors getting just a basic outline of each scene

        Great review JJ!

      • I saw that much of it was improvised, as well. Just don’t know how much, you know?

        And it sounds like we agree on this one. I also like but don’t love it.

  2. “Wilde, therefore, has a difficult assignment; she must give the illusion that her weakly-written character is multi-dimensional. If she fails, Drinking Buddies, as a character centric movie, fails.
    Good thing she succeeds.” Very well said, good sir. Sometimes small-time films like these go down very nicely. I compare it (cheesily) to a crisp, cold Coors Light after a hard day’s work. Sometimes they really hit the spot. πŸ˜€

  3. I don’t think this has been out in the UK yet but it sounds like something I’d really enjoy so I’m going to keep a look out for this.

  4. I technically watched this. I would not feel comfortable reviewing it, as it was kind of, just on, when the girlfriend was over. So point is, cannot remember if the acting was strong and all that, but I remember disliking the whole, “In love with best friend”, angle so many movies are taking these days. Your review does not exactly seem like I miss much though, despite it being decent. Swanberg is a real hit or miss at times.

  5. Great review! I think I liked this film a little more than you, but it’s a little too slight to really blow me away. Still, it would’ve made my top 20 of last year had I seen it then. There’s all these little touches, like the possessiveness of Johnson’s character, presented both from his perspective and Wilde’s, that are so well done. Also, random point – “Which is not to say Swanburg’s screenplay is bad. His dialogue is witty, and his pace is crisp.” – I’m not sure how much credit Swanberg should get for this; I think a lot of the film was improvised, so that pacing/dialogue is at least partly thanks to the actors. But not sure to what extent it was improvised.

    • I had actually heard some of it was improvised. Wondered how much.

      And I like it a lot, too. Especially Johnson’s character. He is very well developed and conceived. I just think there are enough flaws that it’s power is somewhat limited.

  6. See, this is such an interesting take on Wilde’s character. I think I would need to re-watch it to pick up on some of these subtleties. With that being said, I really agree that they took away too much of the emotional components.

    • The emotional distance had to be Drinking Buddies’ biggest mistake. The second probably is Kate’s development, like you said in your review, more or less.

      I just think Wilde so enchanting that she mostly overcomes the latter flaw.

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