A meandering, slow film from Joe Swanberg, Drinking Buddies, starring Jake Johnson (New Girl) and Olivia Wilde (Rush), half-heartedly questions whether men and women can have truly platonic relationships. It adds a potentially deeper dimension by considering how things change when everyone’s drinking. But this shiny upgrade from Joe’s mumblecore films, with its Hollywood stars, swankier sets and better lighting doesn’t live up to that potential.
The question itself is too simple, too tired and for most people watching, already answered. Worse than the dull premise is the dynamic between our protagonists, Luke and Kate. It just doesn’t establish very high stakes, which is weird considering they’re both in supposedly committed relationships. Although their banter is fun to watch and Johnson and Wilde have great chemistry, the bond between their characters isn’t really thought provoking and certainly not dramatic.
Both work at a craft brewery where the booze flows just as easily after work when Kate and Luke inch closer to each other. But as the flirting and affection drags on, you wonder if either really has much to lose. Luke, currently considering marriage with his long-term girlfriend Jill (Anna Kendrick), is erring into dangerous waters if you feel what he has with Jill is precious. But Kendrick is particularly poor in Drinking Buddies, a mostly improvised, unscripted film that relies on the actors to take risks and come up with some brilliance. Similarly, Ron Livingston who plays Kate’s boyfriend, hasn’t really shaken off Sex and the City’s Berger from what, ten years ago now? He’s still as dull and forcefully charming as ever but it’s hard to believe he’s something special.
With the supporting characters bleeding into the margins, we’re back to Kate and Luke who oscillate between being close and being super duper close, reliably cute and funny all the while. There are a few real moments in which you get to know them a bit better: when Luke needs help and Kate can’t step up, when she’s getting over her ex and he takes too moralistic a stance on her shenanigans. But none of this feels like it has a point or a question worth pondering for 90 long minutes. Can men and women just be friends? Swanberg’s revolutionary answer is essentially yes, but life gets messy. Big whoop.
Drinking Buddies is out in UK cinemas on 1st November 2013.