Drinking Buddies (2013)

9 Nov

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Proponent of the mumblecore movement, Joe Swanberg’s pictures are renowned, revered even for their naturalistic verity.   Whilst Drinking Buddies embraces many of the foibles of the genre, chiefly an overtly improvisational tone, it also represents a marked progression in that it features a well-known cast and a more polished veneer than what has come before.

Ostensibly, it’s a well-worn set-up.  Kate (Wilde) and Luke (Johnson) wile away their days working at a Chicago micro-brewery, quaffing the product and flirting like a couple of lovelorn teenagers.  Kate is a veritable free spirit, Luke an affable joker living in the moment.  Whilst they seem perfect for each other, they are both involved in relationships with far more grounded other halves; Kate with sensible Chris (Livingston) and Luke with prim Jill (Kendrick), who invariably are more suited to each other.

Swanberg’s slight, conversational screenplay and lo-fi style of direction effortlessly lends his characters a rounded, convincing narrative, primarily consisting of improvy chats.  Although effective in establishing the nature of Kate and Luke’s evident attraction, it’s also fairly one-dimensional and it’s evident where this is all leading.

As the two couples descend on a cabin for a weekend retreat, Kate and Luke, fuelled by many a beverage find themselves drawn together, whilst Chris and Jill also rather establish some common ground over a deliciously awkward picnic.  It’s very neat and tidy and rather inconsequential, but it’s credit to Wilde and Johnson that that doesn’t really matter.

Wilde in particular is in impressive form as Kate, lending her a strength and fierce individuality tinged with a degree of vulnerability.  Johnson too is charmingly idle and directionless but with hints of hidden depths.  Kendrick and Livingston meanwhile are slightly wasted given their talents, but ultimately this is Kate and Luke’s story.

Swanberg always concerns himself with relationships and the unspoken bond that exists between Kate and Luke is a perfectly constructed example of an endearingly conflicted attraction.  It’s clear that their partners aren’t right for them, but refreshingly it’s never established whether beyond the fog of a beer they are really right for each other either, even though their playground antics ensure you’re willing it to happen.

Despite its evident flaws, there is much that is palatable about Drinking Buddies.  It’s encouraging to see Swanberg evolve his style, albeit slightly and it’s a pleasure to spend a brisk 90 minutes in the company of his well realised co-leads Wilde and Johnson.  Whilst this isn’t a nuanced, crafted picture of any real depth, it does provide a glug of satisfaction and sometimes that’s more than enough.

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