Drinking Buddies centers on friends Kate and Luke, played by Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson, both as friends and as co-workers at a microbrewery (a set that provides for some very cool shots). Their friendship is easy, comfortable and complete. The relationship seems casual and maybe superficial until you see the ease with which they talk to each other, look at each other and fall asleep drunk on couches together. Whatever else they may be, their friendship is intimate and powerful, and without that strength the rest of the movie simple does not function.
The rest of the movie includes their respective romantic partners, the slightly older Chris and the slightly younger Jill, played by Ron Livingston and Anna Kendrick respectively. During a couple’s weekend to a cabin, Chris and Jill share an illicit kiss while Kate and Luke spend a lot of time together drinking and playing cards. After the trip Kate and Chris break up and everybody just kind of moves on. They get drunk at some bars, work at the brewery and just live their lives. The movie’s final third centers around Luke and Kate moving her into a new apartment. The weekend starts out great; they work well as a team and enjoy the task and each other’s company, but devolve quickly into a fight and disagreements about… what? I’m not quite sure actually. Luke goes home and Jill confesses that she kissed Chris in the forest. They patch things up before Luke and Kate reconcile at work the next day during lunch. As friends do.
What structure this movie has resembles a romantic comedy, but it’s not. It has parts and aspects of that kind of movie, but it’s just a whiff. If it’s anything, it’s a friendship comedy, which is not really a thing, especially since this movie is not really a comedy either. There are moments where it’s clear that Luke or Kate is reacting to the other out of potentially romantic feelings, but it’s never enough for them to actually do anything or talk about it; neither of them seem to feel it or know they feel it strongly enough that things are drawn to a head. They don’t talk about it because in the broad spectrum of their friendship it’s just one small component that is not even that important. It’s so mixed up with the bigger emotions of platonic love, concern, anger and humor that all strong friendships have that it may not even matter. The movie ends with them together, but together as friends, something I really enjoyed about the movie.
The movie is funny, but it’s funny in the way that you or I (but not my Mom) are funny. Real life is funny but in a very specific way that comedies are not, and this movie captures that wonderfully. Watching two drunk friends play cards is funny but not because they are comedians or telling funny jokes; it’s the natural interaction between the two people that makes it funny. It’s the unique back and forth and not quite right timing that real people have with each other that makes it funny.
That naturalistic feel of the movie is what makes it so strong. The dialogue never feels forced or to stylized. I felt like I was watching normal, real life people interact with each other. Even the conflict felt real because it was largely about nothing. When Chris and Kate breakup it’s for a variety of small reasons that in most movies would feel too small or out of place but in this one it seems perfectly normal and even expected. When Kate and Luke have a fight during her move, it’s not for any one thing. It’s because she didn’t help him when he hurt his hand, it was because they were tired and hot, it was because they wanted to do different thing that evening. It was also about nothing because that’s what people fight about sometimes. It’s an amazing component of the movie that makes it so captivating to watch.
The movie also captures its characters in a very specific time of their life, a time that I am in and so it really spoke to me. Everybody is well and fully done with college but neither are they fully adult. Luke doesn’t want to get married, they go get smashed at bars on the regular, and nobody is fully settled, except for Chris who is definitely older even though nobody says that explicitly. The wardrobe in the movie is especially instructive in this; What each person wears seems so natural and perfect for their character and where they are in life; Chris dresses older, as does the boss of the brewery (played by Jason Sudeikis) while Luke and especially Kate and Jill dress more youthful and modern. Honestly, the wardrobe selection and decisions are some of the more interesting parts of the movie to think about. Whoever was in charge of that part of the movie really nailed it.
The actors kill it in this film; for all the other aspects of the film that I really liked, without strong acting the whole movie falls especially flat. While Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde are the central characters, I think its Wilde who really carries this movie. It’s her emotional responses and impulses that drive the emotional core of this story and it’s her life events that drive the actual story. She is funny and angry and a joy to watch. The camaraderie she exudes with her male coworkers is strong and casual; you can’t tell if this is just how the character is or if she has built this persona from years of working in her industry. Jake Johnson does many of the same things in his portrayal of Luke but is more responsive then she is. Whereas she ignites, he responds. He gets mad when she sleeps with one of their coworkers, he reacts to his girlfriend when she confesses her moment of weakness with another man, he gets mad at Kate when she changes plans on him. He’s not passive, just more settled. I get the impression that Kate is not as settled into either herself or her career as Luke is. I adore Anna Kendrick; I think she has a great presence on the screen that is unique to her and not many other people that I’ve seen. Her role in this film is somewhat smaller but when she is with Jake Johnson, they have this weird chemistry that feels very authentic and real.
Drinking Buddies is a very contemporary and knowing look at young adults and the friendships and relationships they have in the modern world and that I think is what I really like about this movie. In many ways it’s a movie about me and my generation and where we are right now in our lives. It explores the relatively new freedom we have to build friendships across gender lines with all the weirdness and awesomeness that entails. O, and beer. Beer is everywhere in this film.
Next Movie: Ben-Hur
Next Book: Andre the Giant: Life and Legend by Box Brown