Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) work at a local Chicago brewery and are the best of buds who innocently flirt with each other while at work. Both are involved with another but that does not mean that they cannot go on being “Drinking Buddies.”
Buddy movies come in all shapes and sizes, from two guys (or girls) on the lam, cops on a case, buddies on the road and at the work place. “Drinking Buddies” is the latter. The workers at the brewery love their job and its obvious perk – free beer. So, in a place like that, the employees can get a head start on a night out. With inhibitions turned down, Kate and Luke can flirt, pal around and be buds, especially since Kate is in a relationship with Chris (Ron Livingston) and Luke in one with Jill (Anna Kendrick).
Since they are all friends, the four go off for a weekend by a lake. While there, Jill and Chris have a brief interlude and they kiss. Kate and Luke just hang out with each other like they do every day at work, but with more drunken flirting. The weekend away will impact both couples and their relationships with each other. Who ends up with whom is, to me, a foregone conclusion, making “Drinking Buddies” a story about characters who are friends.
There is a nice, platonic feel to this little ensemble film with much of the dialog improvised by the actors. The talk between the players is natural and not forced and there is a believable chemistry between Olivia Wilde’s Kate and Jake Johnson’s Luke as best buddies. Anna Kendrick is always a pleasure to watch and her Jill is a likable person, Ron Livingston is, oddly, out of place and his character Chris is rather bland – not someone one would think Kate would be with.
Actor turned director Joe Swanberg gives his cast free reign, letting the actors inhabit their characters. As such, there is an organic feel to “Drinking Buddies” that will be familiar to anyone who has had one. I give it a B-.
Kate (Olivia Wilde, "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone") is the harried office manager of a craft brewing company who enjoys a flirtatious friendship with coworker Luke (Jake Johnson, TV's 'New Girl'). But Luke's fiancee Jill (Anna Kendrick, "Pitch Perfect") is beginning to push for a wedding date while Kate's boyfriend Chris (Ron Livingston, "The Conjuring") is questioning their relationship. When the foursome spend a weekend at Chris's lakeside cabin Jill ends up hiking with Chris while Luke spends the night on the beach with Kate suggesting that they're more than just "Drinking Buddies."
Writer/director Joe Swanberg ("Hannah Takes the Stairs") examines the idea of friendship between opposite sexes in this relatable relationship comedy whose actors were encouraged to improvise. With its cabin-set midsection and romantic swapoffs, the film plays like a companion piece to fellow mumblecore filmmaker Lynn Shelton's "Your Sister's Sister."
The craft brewing company is an interesting new workplace and Swanberg and Wilde capture the jack-of-all-trades aspect of an office manager's job. Kate is 'one of the guys' and the crew frequently go out together after work. Kate and Luke always eat together, engaging in ritualistic in jokes, and they always sit together in their local bar. When Kate arranges an elaborate office party, she and Luke meet each other's partners for the first time and we wait to see how awkward it will be. Chris clearly seems uncomfortable around new people, so it's a surprise when we the couples going away together.
From the onset, Chris and Kate seem like an odd couple - he's an intellectual neat freak while she's a guy's girl slob. When Chris met Jill, he was clearly impressed by her work in special needs education (there's an implication he may suffer from Asperger's), so when Jill's the only one interested in his idea of recreation, the stage seems to be set. As Kate and Luke goof around playing cards with ridiculous stakes, Chris and Jill stop for his elaborate picnic and he's astonished that her backpack's equipped with wine glasses and a cheese board. He kisses her. Kate's nonchalant strip in front of Luke for a dip in the lake feels like it has an agenda. The return home is strained. Chris breaks off with Kate and Jill tells Luke she's decided to go to Costa Rica for a week that she'd previously nixed, asking him to think about marriage plans in her absence. While she's away things take some expected and unexpected turns.
Swanberg and his cast do a great job mining all the little insecurities and jealousies that manifest themselves between men and women and the sexual tension that invades male/female friendships. Wilde's Kate is used to being the center of attention and it doesn't always bring out the best in her (in fact, the character becomes downright unlikable) while open and amusing Luke begins to show a possessive streak with Kate and closes off toward Jill. Kendrick is loving and trusting until that kiss forces her own emotional crisis. Livingston remains an odd man out, a troubled soul no one takes the time to understand. The film also costars filmmaker Ti West ("The House of the Devil") as brewery worker Dave and Wilde's fiancee Jason Sudeikis as above-it-all brewery boss Gene Dentler. Swanberg gives himself a cameo as a man who drives Luke to physical violence.
"Drinking Buddies" is a fine little actors' workshop that's refreshing real.
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