SXSW 2013: ‘Drinking Buddies’ is an organic, genuine delight pondering temptations and relationships

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Drinking Buddies
Directed by Joe Swanberg
Written by Joe Swanberg
US, 2013

In this film, the plot is simple. Boy meets girl. Girl meets boy. Both are perfect for each other. However, boy already  has another girl and girl, vice versa. Luke (Jake Johnson) and Kate (Olivia Wilde) both work at a local brewery while exchanging laughs, meals, smiles, and banter throughout the day, but when they go home, it is to their respective significant others.  Luke is in a serious, committed relationship with the mild mannered Jill (Anna Kendrick), while Kate is in a relationship with straight laced music producer Chris (Ron Livingston). Through improv-heavy scenes, Drinking Buddies explores temptation in its various forms within relationships through endearing characters that are likeable, awkward, organic, and real.

When the two couples are introduced to each other at the brewery’s party, it only acts to emphasize how well Luke and Kate are together and how poor of a fit they are with their respective others. The film follows the two pairs of couples as they continue to cross interact, flirt, and more. This leads to a weekend away at Chris’s cabin. There, as Luke and Kate continue their close, albeit flirtatious, friendship, Chris and Jill exchange a kiss while on an awkward hiking trip. This is not romance but a fall to temptation for temptation’s sake, resulting in the end of Kate and Chris’s relationship.

The rest of the film explores how the dynamic between Kate and Luke changes now that one is single and the other is not. This leads to the exploration of the relationships people have, the limits of what betrayal is, and the enduring nature of close, personal relationships with other people, regardless of title or social dictations.

All of these ideas are generated so organically through the characters. This is due largely in part to director Joe Swanberg’s “open playground” style of directing. With only the overall arc and outlined scenes in mind, he allows his actors to improvise dialogue on set. The actors are able to create characters that are imbued with their own personalities, making them that are much more real and personal.

The film shows great care and detail towards the themes, story, and characters. Swanberg’s techniques such as Chris and Jill’s awkward silence parallel to Kate and Luke’s comfortable silence later in the film subtly display the dynamics between these characters and the difference between a betrayed temptation displayed in the former versus a mutual understanding of companionship in the latter. However, this realization does not come easy for these characters. Swanberg shows great restraint by never allowing the Luke and Kate to cross any lines. Physically at least. Emotional boundaries are a much murkier topic, and like a lot of the film, much is left to the interested watcher to interpret.

Luke struggles with his love for Jill who, for her transgressions, is caring and loyal with his feelings for Kate. Jill is the likewise. In the climactic scene, emotions come to a head and decisions are made. How one feels about the ending is very much up to each individual’s own experiences and perspectives on love, relationships, and friendships. Drinking Buddies is an incredibly personal, organic film that will be experienced a little differently by each person.

– David Tran

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