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May 11, 2018

Drinking Buddies

by Franz Patrick


Drinking Buddies (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

Though each of them is in a relationship, Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) flirt at work occasionally to the point where it is worth asking if they feel something more than what they let on. Their counterparts, Chris (Ron Livingston) and Jill (Anna Kendrick), are not aware of the possible mutual attraction. When Chris invites Kate, Luke, and Jill to his family’s beach house, the flirtatious co-workers, especially when alcohol gets involved, may not be the only ones who might be open to temptation.

Written and directed by Joe Swanberg, “Drinking Buddies” is an acquired taste because it immerses feelings and intentions in the mundane while still attempting to say something about the dynamics of romantic relationships. The camera is still as to capture the essence of the unsaid and we observe the four characters navigate through what they think they want versus what they really want. It has moments of genuine fascination.

The problem lies in the fragile line between realism and boredom. One can argue that many scenes, comprising of about half of the picture when taken together, is dispensable drivel. One will not necessarily be wrong. Admittedly, even though I wanted to know more about the characters and if any of them would be brave or foolish enough to cross the line, I found myself tuning out between silences. This should not be the case. If the material were more engaging, silences in relationship comedy-dramas allow the audience to think about what we feel toward a situation and the characters as well as assess what we might do differently if we were in our subjects’ shoes. Here, there is nothing much to the silences. It is often that they are employed to communicate an awkward but superficial situation.

Out of the four, Kate is the one I kept my eye on. In my opinion, she is an alcoholic—albeit a functional one—and so she has the tendency to imbibe when she is unhappy, when things do not go her way, and when she feels the pangs of loneliness. I found it interesting that sometimes a part of me wanted to think of her as the villain—the woman who gets in the way of a relatively happy relationship between Luke and Jill. On another hand, Luke flirts with her, too. He gives Kate a reason to be more attracted to him. In that way, I felt sorry for Kate. One can argue that she is given the most complexity.

The weakest link, regrettably, is Kendrick. She makes a decision not to play a character who radiates positivity and enthusiasm, but it some ways it backfires. Unlike her co-stars, who have the necessary angst to make us want to get to know their characters, her approach makes the character neither lovable nor detestable. Since Jill falls smack-dab in the middle, she becomes the least interesting. It does not help that she is so nice and agreeable. Whenever the spotlight is on Jill, I was bored. Maybe Luke has a reason for noticing Kate. At least there is an excitement to her.

The film is not for everyone but I understand what it has tried to accomplish. Movies of this type are challenging not only because the characters have to be interesting—which means the actors must be on point all the time—but also since the standard is very high. Louis Malle and Richard Linklater have made pictures that share the same bloodline and, quite frankly, “Drinking Buddies” pales by comparison.

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