'Drinking Buddies' refreshingly real 

click to enlarge Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson play pals and colleagues at a brewery in the appealing “Drinking Buddies.” - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson play pals and colleagues at a brewery in the appealing “Drinking Buddies.”

A few weeks ago, Andrew Bujalski's astounding "Computer Chess" illustrated how innovative and experimental the "mumblecore" film movement has become.

Now comes the flip-side: Joe Swanberg's "Drinking Buddies" shows how the genre can be accessible and comfortable, too.

"Drinking Buddies" features recognizable Hollywood stars who are allowed, refreshingly, to play outside pre-assigned Hollywood roles.

For example, comedy actor Jake Johnson plays a regular guy — complete with beard and baseball cap — and beauty Olivia Wilde plays a normal girl with Converse sneakers. She has never been better.

And Jason Sudeikis is more human in his small role here than in the current hit "We're the Millers."

The story takes place in a Chicago craft brewery where Luke (Johnson) works making beer, while Kate (Wilde) works in the office, making phone calls.

Luke and Kate are great friends. They enjoy drinking together after work, and jokingly flirt.

However, Kate is dating the straight-laced Chris (Ron Livingston), and Luke is dating the sweet, girl-next-door-type Jill (Anna Kendrick).

Before long, this foursome goes for a weekend getaway in Chris' family cabin.

Though the movie may sound like last year's terrific "Your Sister's Sister," the cabin scene is little more than a kicking-off point. The clash of personalities therein does not quite go the way one might expect.

Eventually, with Jill out of town, Luke offers to help the newly single Kate move to a new apartment, leaving the two friends to face their feelings toward one another. The sequence is as messy and complicated as a real relationship might be.

Swanberg's directorial technique is designed for maximum comfort, speed and warmth, allowing the actors to flourish without too much fuss. (Swanberg appears onscreen as the "angry man" during the U-Haul sequence.)

Everyone has his or her own baggage in the movie, which is focused more on feelings and emotions, rather than results. Nothing fits together quite so effortlessly as in a Hollywood romance.

Conflict is often avoided, and humor is used as a defense mechanism. When characters do confront each other, the battle becomes a lively mess of accusations.

Simple scenes of the people at work, concentrating on their routines and behavior, are often more revealing than the dialogue, in which words are fumbled and meanings are obscured.

The great amount of alcohol consumed in "Drinking Buddies" perhaps contributes to its general mood; yet in this year of dry "event" movies, it's a real thirst-quencher.


Drinking Buddies

Starring Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston

Written and directed by Joe Swanberg

Rated R

Running time 1 hour, 30 minutes

About The Author

Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jeffrey M. Anderson has written about movies for the San Francisco Examiner since 2000, in addition to many other publications and websites. He holds a master's degree in cinema, and has appeared as an expert on film festival panels, television, and radio. He is a founding member of the San Francisco Film Critics... more
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