Hollywood is always being influenced by the foreign markets, as well as the independent filmmakers. Everything that starts on the outside comes to the center, which ultimately becomes assimilated into the mainstream. The dramedies that have been released through Sundance have connected with audiences around the world, which has caused some of the major studios to create a segment of the company to such features. However, some of these indies are starting to evolve in different ways, since even some of the "non-conventional" dramedies are beginning to become predictable. Writer/director Joe Swanberg's work has never managed to entirely captivate me. While he has had some interesting ideas in the past, he generally has difficulty with the execution. His newest dramedy Drinking Buddies proves that he made some smart choices, but has he improved on his execution? Yes, but this still isn't as strong as I hoped it would be.
Drinking Buddies tells the story of two co-workers who work at a Chicago brewery. Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) spend their days and nights drinking and flirting. They're perfect for each other, except that they're both in relationships. Kate has been playing it cool with her music producer boyfriend Chris (Ron Livingston), while Luke is in the midst of marriage talks with his girlfriend Jill (Anna Kendrick). This group of four will soon realize that one thing is responsible for blurring the lines between friendship and "more than friendship," which is alcohol. However, some of the choices that are made might cause the relationships to result in shambles.
After reading the synopsis, one might come to the conclusion that it doesn't sound a lot different than any other independent dramedy with secret romances. However, it isn't about the narrative itself, but the methods used in order to tell it. Writer/director Joe Swanberg gave the cast an outline of the events that he would like to occur, but he didn't give them much of a script at all. In fact, he asked for them to drive the entire motion picture with improv-based dialogue. Swanberg desired the feature to come across as genuine as possible. He didn't want to structure the conversations in the script, but preferred for it to be more natural. This is a great idea that proves to be successful in making the conversations quite genuine and raw. Unfortunately, there are far too many scenes when there isn't anything going on. There are an enormous amount of awkward moments that don't reflect very well on the movie. Instead of watching relationships change and real people grow, it sometimes feels as if the actors have simply run out of things to say. There's a lot more flirting and whatnot than anything else.
However, the film isn't supposed to be entirely serious. In fact, it's still advertised to partly belong to the comedy genre. While there are a few chuckles to be had, there are far too few of them. Some of the funniest moments can be found in the trailer. Due to the awkward nature of the majority of this feature, there isn't much of an opportunity for any of the characters to display much humor. Fortunately, the characters manage to make up for a lot of this. They might not have audiences laughing, but they will most certainly develop a connection. I felt sympathetic towards Kate and always wanted her to find happiness. Her friendship with Luke appears so real, that it sometimes seems as if we're a "fly on the wall." While this doesn't entirely brush away the lack of good comedy, it most certainly allows for audiences to appreciate a strong positive aspect.
While Drinking Buddies is short and never dull, the pacing could still use some help. Some sequences run for so long that some viewers might begin to lose interest in the overall narrative. If it weren't for the characters, I would have probably tuned out rather quickly. It isn't funny or very impactful, but certain moments certainly shine brighter than others. The final act handles the relationship between Kate and Luke rather well. There are some intriguing scenes between the two and as they're by themselves. The final sequence before the credits begin rolling tells us how the story will continue, even though the film itself is over. This is one of the most powerful moments to be found throughout the entire running time, as it conveys some of the most impactful emotions to be found.
The most impressive asset of Drinking Buddies is its cast. This portion of the film will surely draw curious audiences in. Olivia Wilde is exceptional in the role of Kate. Not only does she provide an incredibly convincing core to this character, but she delivers some of the only laughs to be found. Jake Johnson is quite believable as Luke. His friendship with Wilde is great on screen, since they constantly manage to make us believe the situation they find themselves in. Anna Kendrick has a small supporting role, but she's charming as always. While her character isn't as likable as usual, this is yet another solid performance from her. Ron Livingston has an even smaller amount of screen time, but he does a pretty good job with the quantity of scenes that he's been provided with. The film spends the majority of its time telling the story about Kate and Luke, rather than the people they're dating. It must have been quite difficult to create an entire motion picture with an entirely improv-based script. While the film itself is a bit rough around the edges, the performances work extremely well.
If this motion picture receives enough attention, it just might be assimilated into mainstream filmmaking. However, this isn't necessarily a film festival gem. It isn't very funny and the drama doesn't always deliver. However, the characters and their performances are quite strong. It's a shame that this couldn't be stronger. There's constantly an overwhelming feeling that there are a few puzzle pieces missing. Drinking Buddies has some worthwhile pros, but it isn't always able to stay on point. I feel that a film about drinking and the problems of relationships should be a lot funnier and more dramatic, but perhaps that's just me. Rent it.