[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B00F6SHFMC][/pullquote] One of the main auteurs in the mumblecore movement of micro-budget independent films, Joe Swanberg returns with his highest profile film to date, Drinking Buddies. Like previous films it focuses on naturalistic elements of film-making, thus shunning the rhythm in speech and dialogue for an almost documentary film approach.
Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) are friends who work at a micro-brewery in Chicago who spend their days drinking and flirting. After a night drinking Kate’s boyfriend Chris (Ron Livingston) invites Luke and his girlfriend Jill (Anna Kendrick) to stay at a cabin in the woods. The foursome travel up together and their interlocking relationships become even more confused and intertwined.
During filming Drinking Buddies had no script of dialogue. The actors knew the major events in their characters lives, but other than that were left to ad-lib dialogue and interaction. The aim is clearly to give the film an element of truthfulness and to avoid the staid clichÃ©s of modern cinema. To this end it is successful. It genuinely feels like your watching footage of actual people having conversations and interacting with each other and the world they inhabit. Unfortunately what this highlights is the importance of scripts in film-making.
Without the tightly created back and forth of a well-written script a huge amount of pressure is put on the actors and leads to uncomfortable and awkward silences, especially when the editing of the film leads the audience down that particular path. It seems that Swanberg wants to create a slice of time in his characters lives, warts and all. There is no tightly-driven drama or a standard ebb and flow of a 3-act structure, which sadly creates a narrative that drags and never delivers in terms of engagement or interest.
The cast do the best with the limited material with Olivia Wilde especially giving it her all, which sadly leads to some forced ˜acting’ with a capital A. This highlights in a nutshell exactly what is wrong with Drinking Buddies. It is trying to hard to be low-key and realistic and by virtue becomes even more forced and trite than the Hollywood produced saccharine nonsense that Matthew McConaughey might once have starred in.
With two of the main cast working at what appears to be a hipster micro-brewery in Chicago, everyone has the appearance of being so cool. The frothy beer itself is quaffed endlessly, even during the day and often acts as a catalyst to the unfolding events. The big question of whether a close friendship between man and woman can really exist without deeper feelings is touched open before heavy-handedly smashed in the head with a hammer. Plus the real question that needs to be asked is at what point does rampant alcoholism stop being cool? Never it seems.
Unfortunately, the naturalistic style, lack of script and endless awkward scenes make Drinking Buddies a tough watch for all the wrong reasons. It’s such a waste of what on paper is an incredible cast.