Drinking Buddies (15)

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The ViewBirmingham Review

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Review byMatthew Turner31/10/2013

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 90 mins

Enjoyable, emotionally engaging and bittersweet relationship comedy with a sharply observed script, believably flawed characters and a pair of terrific central performances from Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson.

What's it all about?
Written and directed by mumblecore maestro Joe Swanberg, Drinking Buddies stars Olivia Wilde as Kate, the marketing manager of an independent Chicago brewery, who enjoys a flirtatious friendship with co-worker Luke (Jake Johnson), who works on the brewing floor. The pair eat lunch together and frequently go for post-work drinks with their other colleagues, but their relationship is strictly platonic, not least because they both have partners – Kate is in a relationship with music producer Chris (Ron Livingston) while Luke is engaged to art historian Jill (Anna Kendrick), even if they haven't quite got around to picking a date yet.

When Chris invites Kate, Luke and Jill to his family's cabin in Michigan for the weekend, Luke and Kate end up cementing their friendship, but Chris and Jill share an awkward kiss while taking a hike together. This prompts Chris to reassess his relationship and he ends things with Kate, which sends her into a downward spiral and leaves Luke to pick up the pieces.

The Good
Olivia Wilde is terrific as Kate, seizing the chance to play an engaging and relatably complex lead character (rather than the token love interest) and duly delivering one of her best performances to date. Rising star Jake Johnson is equally good as Luke and the pair have believable chemistry together that is both charming and very funny. Similarly, Swanberg uses Livingston's occasionally dull screen persona to intriguing and unexpected effect, while Kendrick tones down her usual sparky charm in favour of something more down-to-earth.

The sharply observed script (which grew out of Swanberg's improvisational technique, workshopping with the actors) has a raw honesty to it, commendably side-stepping the expected clichés in favour of recognisably realistic situations that are often painful to watch, such as Luke's powerless jealousy when Kate drunkenly hooks up with another co-worker.

The Great
Swanberg gets the bittersweet tone exactly right – there are moments and lines that are laugh-out-loud funny, but there's also an underlying sadness to the film as each character is aware that they are reaching a turning point in their lives; with that in mind, the somewhat ambiguous ending to the film (which it would be churlish to spoil here) works brilliantly and even serves to point up the inherent cut-and-dried falseness of the majority of romcoms.

In addition, the film is beautifully shot, courtesy of Beasts of the Southern Wild cinematographer Ben Richardson and the carefully chosen but never intrusive soundtrack features songs from the likes of Richard Swift, Cayucos and Foxygen.

Worth seeing?
Drinking Buddies is an emotionally engaging, sharply observed relationship comedy with a strong script and superb performances from Wilde and Johnson. Highly recommended.

Film Trailer

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Content updated: 18/10/2017 15:52

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