Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies is a prime example of how a cast can save a movie from drifting into obscurity once the end credits roll. Good chemistry between actors is essential to making a film enjoyable; luckily for Drinking Buddies, the cast is exactly what turns the film into a minor success. The four principal stars are supremely likable and are given the chance to show off their improvisation skills throughout.
Kate (Olivia Wilde) is the office manager of a Chicago-area brewery, and works with Luke (Jake Johnson), with whom she has become very close. Their interactions are cute, filled with inside jokes and flirtations. One would think Kate and Luke might be more than friends, but they are in separate romantic relationships. Luke is dating Jill (Anna Kendrick) and has been for quite some time. Luke cares deeply for Jill, but feels trapped as she continues to pressure him into talks of marriage. Kate’s relationship with the older Chris (Ron Livingston), however, is much more casual than Luke and Jill’s.
While Drinking Buddies is mostly a four-person show, Wilde and Johnson are the stars. They have a sparkling connection and play off each other so naturally, it achieves the effect of making the duo feel like a truly convincing pair of best friends who love to hang out and enjoy a couple of beers. Johnson, known for his role on the popular TV show New Girl, is especially good as Luke. His role calls for humor and frustration, which is equally balanced in the performance. Kendrick, always charming, and Livingston are both good, but their characters seem to function more as plot devices that fuel the conflict, not as naturalistic people. They exist to propel the tension forward and never feel like fully realized characters.
Drinking Buddies is by no means a bad film. Instead, it’s merely paper-thin; its improvised nature is apparent throughout, as was reported before the film’s release. The quartet of performers were supposedly given the direction for each scene and the overall plot, just not a full script. Improvising a film is always a risk, but can have a great effect if done correctly. Last year, Your Sister’s Sister was largely improvised by its talented ensemble and ended up being one of the year’s best films. Your Sister’s Sister, however, had a little more meat on its bones than Drinking Buddies, but it is the cast that give the film an easy, laid-back, unforced feel.
This film runs a breezy 90 minutes, but at times it feels like it struggles to even meet that mark. There are times that the film palys like a sketch that eventually overstays its welcome. Even so, Drinking Buddies warrants a recommendation for its charming cast and natural attitude about friendships, romance, and great beer.
Drinking Buddies is currently in limited release and available on VOD.