Monday, January 27, 2014

"Drinking Buddies" (2013)

Starring Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson and Anna Kendrick
Written and directed by Joe Swanberg
Rated R - Strong language, drinking
Running Time: 90 Minutes

Mmm... beer. Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) are coworkers at a brewery in Chicago. The two have an easy, flirty friendship that involves a lot of laughter and drinks. At first glance, it would seem like these two are either dating or they should be.

But Kate is in a relationship with Chris (Ron Livingston) and Luke goes home every night to Jill (Anna Kendrick). Both of these relationships are strained. Chris isn't sure what Kate sees in him, and the two don't seem to share many common interests. For Jill and Luke, it's a similar situation. Luke says he wants to marry Jill, but feels that the "timing isn't right," leaving them both in a sort of emotional limbo.

One weekend, the four go for a trip to his family's cabin. The weekend is somewhat awkward, as neither couple spends much time with each other. That is, Chris spends his time with Jill while Luke and Kate do their own thing. Things get worse when Jill and Chris share a kiss. Not long after returning from the cabin, Chris breaks up with Kate, sending her spiraling out of control.

Luke seems to be growing even closer to Kate as Jill distances herself from him. Will Luke and Kate finally get together?

"Drinking Buddies" is one of those charming, but not really laugh-out-loud indie dramedies. You know the one; there's not much in the way of music, the conversations seem mostly inconsequential or "naturalistic" (like the majority of conversations you might have in real life) and there's maybe not so much of a concrete ending. Apparently, this genre is called "mumblecore." I don't know...

It's a perfectly watchable film, but it also feels as inconsequential as most of the conversations the characters have. We basically just get to watch a slice of their lives, and then we're left to wonder where they'll go afterward.

What makes it so watchable is the strength of its cast. Wilde and Johnson are clearly having a lot of fun. There's an ease to their banter that is very pleasing. It makes you want them to be together, it's plainly obvious that such a relationship would be a grand time for both of them.

But, and this is a lesson I've been slapped with numerous times in my life, do two people who seem like they should be together really belong together? How much does timing count in a relationship? Or the ease with which two people get along? It's obvious that Kate and Luke care about each other, considerably. But sometimes, shit just doesn't work out.

Is that any one person's fault? The film pins a pretty specific moment on when it's telling us that Kate and Luke aren't going to get together (at least, not right yet - the film's ending is frustratingly vague). There could be a couple different theories for why this doesn't happen, with responsibility falling on either or neither of the characters.

I suppose it's up to the viewer to decide.

The improvisational nature of the film means it doesn't have a lot of the normal dramatic heft one might expect. But it's not a bad film, and it certainly lets the audience ask intriguing questions about the nature of our relationships. Who are we meant to be with, and when? If you can appreciate the film for its fine performances and themes, then you'll probably enjoy "Drinking Buddies." But if you're looking for something a little more concrete and mainstream, especially given the cast involved, look elsewhere.

"Drinking Buddies" streams on Netflix.

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