Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Drinking Buddies


Writer-director Joe Swanberg's "Drinking Buddies" is a slice-of-life movie that grows on you even after it ends, with its keenly observed relationships and refusal to conform to pat expectations.

Jake M. Johnson, who made such a strong impression last year in "Safety Not Guaranteed," gives a lived-in performance as Luke, a blue-collar worker at a small Chicago brewery. He has lunch most days with Kate (Olivia Wilde), whose job involves schmoozing corporate clients but who doesn't put on airs; she's just one of the guys. They share an easy camaraderie and some coy flirtation, but as the movie opens, both are in relationships. 

For the past eight months, Kate has lived with Chris (Ron Livingston), a serious and successful music producer. Meanwhile, Luke has been with Jill (the always appealing Anna Kendrick), a special education teacher, for years. Swanberg knows instinctively the rhythm of life in their world, where days at the brewery often segue into nights at favorite bars. (The beer consumption in this movie puts the wankers of "The World's End" to shame.) 

When the two couples take a weekend camping trip together, it's clear to everyone that in many ways Luke is better suited to Kate and Chris to Jill. And here's where you'd expect most filmmakers to uncross the wires and cut to a happy ending. But Swanberg's just getting started. There are temptations, and one stolen kiss, but the hard part - the good stuff - is in the messy aftermath, the unpleasant conversations and painful decisions and sacrifices that give meaning to love relationships.

Swanberg's ear for dialogue rings true throughout. These characters feel real to us, like if we stopped in at the brewery, Luke would be there hosing down the machines and Kate making one last call before heading over to their usual haunt. I especially admire the dimensionality of Jill and Kate, their dance of un-jealous nonchalance when everybody's just hanging out giving way to fervent territoriality toward their men. "Drinking Buddies" is a rare movie with more going on than meets the eye.

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