Cheers! These "Drinking Buddies" are cool
By Richard Roeper
Everything about Drinking Buddies seems just about right. Take the fight, for example. There's this guy, Luke, who's helping his co-worker move. They rent a truck, but it won't fit in one of those narrow Chicago neighborhood alleys behind the co-worker's new digs, so they have to leave it in the middle of the street while they quickly unload the furniture. Not quickly enough for the impatient motorist who lays on the horn and starts yelling for them to move the truck, NOW. The argument turns physical— but it's not one of those typical movie fights with punches that sound like baseball bats hitting leather sofas. It's brutal and aggressive, but it's also kind of stupid and embarrassing and awkward.
These are two guys who don't fight, getting into a fight. So it goes with the casual conversations, the workplace friendships, the after-work get-togethers, the romances, the breakups and the quiet resolutions in Drinking Buddies, a through-and-through indie-feeling film from director-writer-editor Joe Swanberg that almost never falls into the trap of being too smug, too cool, in its casual realism. You know that annoying beer commercial where three hipster guys enter the bar and the narrator tells us how they increase their cool factor by playing the right song on the jukebox and ordering the right kind of brew? Drinking Buddies could have been the movie-length version of that commercial, but (thank God) it's the perfect, exact opposite.
Jake Johnson is Luke, a laid-back brewmeister who runs the floor at a Chicago craft brewery and pub. (The workplace scenes in Drinking Buddies were filmed at Revolution Brewing in Chicago.) Luke favors trucker hats and the kind of beard worn by lumberjacks or eccentric relief pitchers. He's friends with just about everyone at work, most notably Olivia Wilde's Kate, the public relations director/event planner for the brewpub, and why not? She's effortlessly beautiful, she's one of the guys, and she can match Luke beer for beer.
Why isn't Luke with Kate? Because he's already got a great girlfriend named Jill (Anna Kendrick), a schoolteacher, and Kate's with Chris (Ron Livingston), who's about 10 years older and about three times more successful than the younger crowd at Kate's job. It takes only one brief camping trip for it to become obvious Luke and Kate are perfect for each other and Jill and Chris might be a pretty good match as well— but Drinking Buddies isn't some high-concept, ribald sex romp, nor does it follow the path most mainstream romantic comedies would take.
The story is as much about what doesn't happen as it is about the events that do take place. We like these people. Jill's a little too uptight and Chris is a little full of himself. Kate tries a little too hard to be one of the boys and Luke's a little— well, come on, guy, enough with the trucker hats and the never-grow-up stuff. But those human flaws make them all the more endearing, because over all, these are four people we'd like to be friends with, and four people we'd like to see find happiness, whether it's in their current relationships or something waiting around the corner.
Olivia Wilde can be as exotically beautiful as just about any actress in the movies these days, but she's even more attractive here as the kind of girl who'll sit on the floor in jeans and tennis shoes and savor every ounce of that craft beer. (Wilde's real-life love interest, Jason Sudeikis, is hilarious in a small, uncredited role as the owner of the brewpub.) Anna Kendrick can pretty much do no wrong, and Ron Livingston's been a reliable screen presence going back to Office Space. And Jake Johnson's right there, holding his own. Very natural, very casual— and it takes just the right amount of hard work to come across as very natural and very casual.
Writer-director-editor Swanberg should actually get first billing, as it's his touch that makes Drinking Buddies something special. He shows us the Chicago you don't see in the mega-budget superhero movies set here. He gives us a script that sounds like real people talking. (One imagines there was some room for improvisation as well.) And just when we think we know exactly where things are going, they take another route. This is one of the best beer movies ever made.